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Iversen v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

May 8, 2017

GREGORY A. IVERSEN, Claimant,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, [1]Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Jeffrey T. Gilbert United States Magistrate Judge

         Claimant Gregory Iversen ("Claimant") seeks review of the final decision of Respondent Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"), denying Claimant's application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings, including entry of final judgment, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Rule 73.1. [ECF No. 13.] They filed cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [ECF Nos. 21, 23.] For the reasons discussed below, Claimant's motion for summary judgment is denied, and the Commissioner's is granted. The decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Claimant filed an application for disability insurance benefits on June 10, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2008. (R. 219.) After an initial denial and a denial on reconsideration, Claimant filed a request for an administrative hearing. Id. at 93, 106, 119. Claimant, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified before an Administrative Law Judge (the "ALJ") during a hearing held on January 14, 2015. Id. at 36-74. A vocational expert (the "VE") also testified at the hearing. Id.

         On March 26, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Claimant's application for benefits based on a finding that he was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Id. at 19-29. The opinion followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required by Social Security Regulations. 20 § C.F.R. 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of January 1, 2008. Id. at 21. At step two, the ALJ found Claimant had the severe impairments of a diabetes mellitus, type I, with diabetic retinopathy and neuropathy. Id. At step three, the ALJ found Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526). Mat 22.

         Before step four, the ALJ found Claimant had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to work at the sedentary level with the following limitations: Claimant must avoid all exposure to work hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery; can never climb ladders, rope, or scaffolding; can no more than occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, bend, twist or climb ramps/stairs; and must avoid work requiring reading small print and handling/viewing small objects (1.5 inches or smaller). Id. at 23.

         Based on this RFC, the ALJ determined at step four that Claimant could not perform any past relevant work. Id. at 27. Then, at step five, the ALJ found there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Claimant could perform. Id. Specifically, the ALJ found Claimant could work as a preparer, plated products, and a waxer. Id. at 28. Because of this determination, the ALJ found Claimant was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Id. at 29.

         On May 29, 2015, Claimant sought review of the ALJ's decision. Id. at 15. On May 16, 2016, the Social Security Appeals Council denied the request for review. Id. at 1. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Id.; see also Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009). Claimant now seeks review in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Haynes v. Baumhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A decision by an ALJ becomes the Commissioner's final decision if the Appeals Council denies a request for review. Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-107 (2000). Under such circumstances, the district court reviews the decision of the ALJ. Id. Judicial review is limited to determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards in reaching her decision. Nelms, 553 F.3d at 1097.

         Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). A "mere scintilla" of evidence is not enough. Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002). Even when there is adequate evidence in the record to support the decision, however, the findings will not be upheld if the ALJ does not "build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to the conclusion." Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008). If the Commissioner's decision lacks evidentiary support or adequate discussion of the issues, it cannot stand. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir. 2009).

         The "findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Though the standard of review is deferential, a reviewing court must "conduct a critical review of the evidence" before affirming the Commissioner's decision. Eichstadt v. Astrue, 534 F.3d 663, 665 (7th Cir. 2008). It may not, however, "displace the ALJ's judgment by reconsidering facts or evidence." Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). Thus, judicial review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings. Nelms, 553 F.3d at 1097. The reviewing court may enter a judgment "affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the [Commissioner], with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Claimant presents one issue for review. He argues the ALJ's conclusion at step five was not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Claimant contends the ALJ failed to resolve apparent conflicts between the VE's testimony ...


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