United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
Jeffrey Cole Magistrate Judge
plaintiff, Kevin Peterson, seeks review of the final decision
of the Commissioner (“Commissioner”) of the
Social Security Administration (“Agency”) denying
his application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act (“the Act”). 42 U.S.C. 1382c(a)(3)(A). Mr.
Peterson asks the court to reverse and remand the
Commissioner's decision, while the Commissioner seeks an
order affirming the decision.
Peterson applied for SSI on July 18, 2011, alleging that he
had been disabled since December 1, 2009, as a result of
herniated discs in his back, arthritis in his arm, migraines,
depression, and chronic pain syndrome. (Administrative Record
(“R.”) 227-32, 250). His application was denied
initially and upon reconsideration. (R. 157-63, 169-72). Mr.
White continued pursuit of his claim by filing a timely
request for hearing on August 24, 2012. (R. 185).
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) convened a
hearing on May 27, 2014, and Mr. Peterson, represented by
counsel, appeared and testified. (R. 50-156). In addition, a
vocational expert, Pamela Tucker, also testified. (R. 50,
136-145). On August 26, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision
denying Mr. Peterson's application for SSI because,
although he could not perform any of his past relevant work,
he could perform at least a limited range of light work. (R.
22-44). This capacity allowed Mr. White to perform jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy, such
as cleaner/polisher, address clerk, and document preparer.
(R. 43). This became the final decision of the Commissioner
when the Appeals Council denied Mr. White's request for
review of the decision on January 27, 2016. (R. 4-9).
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955; 404.981. Mr.
White has appealed that decision to the federal district
court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
applicable standard of review of the Commissioner's
decision is a familiar one. The court must affirm the
decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g). Substantial evidence is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to
support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Brown v. Colvin, 845 F.3d 247,
251 (7th Cir. 2016). The court may not reweigh the evidence,
or substitute its judgment for that of the Social Security
Administration. Alvarado v. Colvin, 836 F.3d 744,
747 (7th Cir. 2016); Pepper v. Colvin, 712 F.3d 351,
362 (7th Cir. 2013).
the standard of review is deferential, “‘this
does not mean that we will simply rubber-stamp the
Commissioner's decision without a critical review of the
evidence.'” Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d
929, 935 (7th Cir. 2015)(quoting Clifford v. Apfel,
227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000)). See also Cinatl v.
Astrue, 2011 WL 1743408, at *6 (N.D. Ill.
2011)(“While the standard of review is deferential, it
is not abject.”). In order for the court to affirm a
denial of benefits, the ALJ must “minimally
articulate” the reasons for her decision.
Brown, 845 F.3d at 252. This means that the ALJ
“must build an accurate and logical bridge between the
evidence” and her conclusion. O'Connor-Spinner
v. Colvin, 832 F.3d 690, 698 (7th Cir. 2016). The
ALJ's decision must allow the court to assess the
validity of her findings and afford the plaintiff a
meaningful judicial review. Murphy v. Colvin, 759
F.3d 811, 819 (7th Cir. 2014). As Judge Posner has put it,
“we cannot uphold a decision by an administrative
agency, any more than we can uphold a decision by a district
court, if, while there is enough evidence in the record to
support the decision, the reasons given by the trier of fact
do not build an accurate and logical bridge between the
evidence and the result.” Sarchet v. Chater,
78 F.3d 305, 307 (7th Cir. 1996).
are issues with the vocational evidence in this case, and the
ALJ's treatment of it, that require a remand, so the
usual long and often tedious recounting of the large medical
record will be dispensed with. Suffice it to say that, as the
ALJ found, Mr. Peterson has a number of severe impairments,
including arthritis of the neck, back, and wrist, migraines,
depression, anxiety, and personality disorder. (R. 25). As a
result of his physical impairments, the ALJ found that Mr.
Peterson could perform light work that did not require
repetitive pushing or pulling with his extremities; climbing
ladders, ropes or scaffolds; balancing or crawling; more than
occasional climbing ramps/stairs, kneeling, crouching, or
stopping; and no more than frequent reaching, handling, or
fingering. (R. 41).
further found that, as a result of his psychological
impairments, Mr. Peterson suffered from a mild restriction in
his activities of daily living, a moderate restriction in his
social functioning, and a moderate limitation in his ability
to maintain concentration, persistence, and pace. (R. 27).
Because of these limitations, the ALJ determined that Mr.
Peterson was limited to work that was unskilled, simple, and
repetitive; and that involved only simple, routine
instructions. He could not work with the general public. He
could adapt to changes and make decisions that would be
required in such work; would be distracted only rarely and
would never be off task outside of break times. (R. 42).
Despite all these limitations, the ALJ, relying on testimony
from the vocational expert, determined that Mr. Peterson
could perform work that existed in significant numbers in the
economy. He could be a cleaner/polisher, an address clerk, or
a document preparer. (R. 43). Accordingly, the ALJ found Mr.
Peterson was not disabled and not entitled to SSI under the
Act. (R. 43-44).
noted, along the way to reaching her decision, the ALJ
determined that Mr. Peterson has moderate difficulties with
concentration, persistence, and pace. (R. 27). The
Commissioner's regulations do not quantify what is meant
by “moderate” difficulties, but the regulations
do instruct ALJs to rate the degree of limitation on a
5-point scale of none, mild, moderate, marked, and extreme.
O'Connor-Spinner v. Colvin, 832 F.3d 690, 698-99
(7th Cir. 2016); Pepper v. Colvin, 712 F.3d 351, 365
(7th Cir. 2013); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920a. So a moderate
limitation would rate a 3, and would be fairly significant;
in other words, the ALJ had to account for it in her residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) finding and in her
hypothetical to the vocational expert.
O'Connor-Spinner, 832 F.3d at 698; Varga v.
Colvin, 794 F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 2015); Yurt v.
Colvin, 758 F.3d 850, 857 (7th Cir. 2014).
RFC finding, the ALJ said that Mr. Peterson has the capacity:
to perform and sustain simple, repetitive work. He can
understand, remember and carry out simple routine
instructions. . . . He would be distracted only rarely by
symptoms to the extent that he was off ...