United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
DOLORES M. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge.
Dolores M. Robinson (“Plaintiff” or “Ms.
Robinson”) seeks review o the final decision of
Respondent Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Socia
Security (“the Commissioner”),  denying
Plaintiff's application for disabilit insurance benefits
under Title II of the Social Security Act. The parties filed
cross motions for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 56 (Dkts. 12, 18). For the reasons stated
below, Plaintiff's motion for summar judgment is GRANTED
and the Commissioner's is DENIED. The decision of th
Commissioner is REVERSED, and the case is REMANDED for
further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion
case is on appeal to the district court for the second time.
On May 29, 2012, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Plaintiff's application for benefits based on a finding
that she was not disabled under the Social Security Act (the
“Act”). On May 21, 2014, Judge Cox issued a
Memorandum Opinion and Order (hereafter, the “May 2014
Order”) remanding the ALJ's decision for further
proceedings. (R. at 617-40). Judge Cox concluded that the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
determination as to Ms. Robinson's mental ability was
supported by substantial evidence, but remand was proper
“for further assessment of Ms. Robinson's
credibility in light of her need to elevate her feet and her
testimony regarding fatigue, and for reconsideration of Ms.
Robinson's RFC to the extent that it is impacted by the
ALJ's credibility determination.” (Id. at
remand, the Social Security Appeals Council instructed the
ALJ to offer Plaintiff a hearing and “take any further
action needed to complete the administrative record.”
(Id. at 648). The ALJ noted that she was directed to
give “further consideration only for credibility of two
allegations: (1) claimant's testimony that she needed to
elevate her legs; and (2) claimant's complaints of
fatigue.” (Id. at 523). On November 13, 2014,
the ALJ held a new hearing with Ms. Robinson, Ms.
Robinson's attorney, and vocational expert (VE) Pamela
Tucker. (Id. at 545-77). On December 8, 2014, the
ALJ again found Plaintiff not disabled and denied benefits.
(Id. at 538). Following the five-step sequential
evaluation process required by the Social Security
Regulations (20 CFR § 404.1520), the ALJ initially noted
that Ms. Robinson met the insured status requirements of the
Act through December 31, 2011. (Id. at 525). At step
one, the ALJ found that Ms. Robinson had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of
July 31, 2010. (Id.) At step two, the ALJ found that
Ms. Robinson had the severe impairments of fibromyalgia,
obesity, and major depressive disorder. (Id.) At
step three, the ALJ found that Ms. Robinson did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(Id. at 526).
step four, the ALJ found that Ms. Robinson:
had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work
as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c). She can lift and carry up
to twenty-five pounds frequently and fifty pounds
occasionally. She can stand and/or walk about six hours in an
eight-hour workday. She can sit about six hours in an
eight-hour workday. The work should involve: simple
instructions, routine tasks, occasional changes in the work
setting, and simple work-related decisions.
(Id. at 528). Based on this RFC, the ALJ determined at
step four that Ms. Robinson was able to perform past relevant
work as a carton machine feeder, a medium, unskilled job.
(Id. at 536, 550). At step five, the ALJ
alternatively found that Ms. Robinson could perform other
work existing in the national economy including laundry
worker and cleaner. (Id. at 538). Therefore, the ALJ
concluded that Ms. Robinson was not disabled under the Act.
(Id.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner (id. at 507-10), and
Plaintiff now seeks review in this Court pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
Robinson applied for disability insurance benefits on August
10, 2010. She was nearly 55 years old on her claimed onset
date of July 31, 2010 and 56 years old on her last insured
date of December 31, 2011. (Dkt. 13; R. at 537). Ms. Robinson
previously held jobs including transcriptionist and cardboard
machine feeder. (R. at 618). The ALJ found Ms. Robinson had
the severe impairments of fibromyalgia, obesity, and major
depressive disorder. (Id. at 525).
hearing before the ALJ on November 13, 2014, Ms. Robinson
testified that during the relevant time period in 2010 and
2011, she was elevating her legs about three times a day.
(Id. at 552). When she did chores at home, she would
have to stop and put her legs up every two to three hours.
(Id. at 553). Ms. Robinson was not sure why she had
so much pain until a doctor told her it was due to
fibromyalgia. (Id. at 554). She also testified that
she had fatigue and was not sure if the cause was her
medication or fibromyalgia. (Id. at 558-59). She
took naps about once a day for two to three hours. In the
morning, she was sometimes refreshed and sometimes tired,
depending on what she did the day before. (Id. at
is “a disorder characterized by widespread
musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory
and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia
amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain
processes pain signals.” Mayo Clinic:
Fibromyalgia. In July 2012, the Social Security
Administration (SSA) issued guidelines describing
fibromyalgia as “a complex medical condition
characterized primarily by widespread pain in the joints,
muscles, tendons, or nearby soft tissues that has persisted
for at least 3 months.” SSR 12-2p, 2012 SSR LEXIS 1.
One indicator of fibromyalgia is a “history of
widespread pain…in all quadrants of the body, [which]
may fluctuate in intensity and may not always be
STANDARD OF REVIEW
decision by an ALJ becomes the Commissioner's final
decision if the Appeals Counsel denies a request for review.
Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000). The
district court reviews the decision of the ALJ, limiting its
review to a determination of whether the ALJ's findings
of fact are supported by substantial evidence. Young v.
Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Evidence
is considered substantial “if a reasonable person would
accept it as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 473 (7th Cir.
2004). In addition, the ALJ must explain her analysis of the
evidence “with enough detail and clarity to permit
meaningful appellate review.” Briscoe ex rel.
Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005).
When the ALJ recommends a denial of benefits, the ALJ
“must first build an accurate and logical bridge from
the evidence to the conclusion.” Berger v.
Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008) (internal
quotations and citation omitted). This means that the ALJ
“must rest its denial of benefits on adequate evidence
contained in the record and must explain why contrary
evidence does not persuade.” Id. A
Commissioner decision that lacks evidentiary support or
adequate discussion of the issues will be remanded.
Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir.
2009). 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).
argues that the ALJ improperly discredited Plaintiff which
resulted in an inaccurate RFC. (Dkt. 13 at
13-15). “[A]lthough we defer to an ALJ's
credibility finding that is not patently wrong, …an
ALJ still must competently explain an adverse-credibility
finding with specific reasons supported by the record. An
erroneous credibility finding requires remand unless the
claimant's testimony is incredible on its face or the ALJ
explains that the decision did not depend on the credibility
finding.” Engstrand v. Colvin, 788 F.3d 655,
660 (7th Cir. 2015) (internal citations and quotations
the Social Security regulations, symptoms including pain are
evaluated using a two-step process. The ALJ: (1) considers
whether there is an underlying medically determinable
impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce the
symptoms; and (2) makes a finding on the credibility of the
claimant's statements, considering of the entire case
record. S.S.R. 96-7p. Here, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Robinson's medically determinable impairments could
reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms but Ms.
Robinson's statements about the intensity, persistence
and limiting effects of the symptoms were “not entirely
credible.” (R. at 530).
fibromyalgia “often produce[s] pain and other symptoms
out of proportion to the ‘objective' medical
evidence, it is crucial that the disability adjudicator
evaluate credibility with great care and a proper
understanding of the disease.” Johnson v.
Colvin, No. 13-C-1023, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82830, at
*1 (E.D. Wis. June 18, 2014) (citing Sarchet v.
Chater,78 F.3d 305 (7th Cir. 1996)). In this case, the
ALJ did not evaluate Plaintiff's claims with sufficient
care and understanding of fibromyalgia and in light of the
record as a whole. Because the ALJ's credibility
determination was based on ...