United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
David Weisman United States Magistrate Judge.
Bijedic brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) for judicial review of the Social Security
Administration Commissioner's decision denying her
application for disability insurance benefits. For the
reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the
filed an application for disability benefits on September 15,
2011, alleging a disability onset date of May 27, 2011. (R.
210.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially on
December 8, 2011, and on reconsideration on May 1, 2012. (R.
103-04.) An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held
a hearing on plaintiff's application on March 5, 2014.
(See R. 36-102.) On March 26, 2014, the ALJ denied
plaintiff's application. (See R. 11-28.) The
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review (R.
1-4), leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of
the Commissioner, reviewable by this Court pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). See Villano v. Astrue, 556
F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).
Court reviews the ALJ's decision deferentially, affirming
it if it is supported by “substantial evidence in the
record, ” i.e., “‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” White v. Sullivan,
965 F.2d 133, 136 (7th Cir. 1992) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). “Although this
standard is generous, it is not entirely uncritical, ”
and the case must be remanded if the “decision lacks
evidentiary support.” Steele v. Barnhart, 290
F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted).
the Social Security Act, disability is defined as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). The regulations prescribe a five-part
sequential test for determining whether a claimant is
disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The
Commissioner must consider whether: (1) the claimant has
performed any substantial gainful activity during the period
for which she claims disability; (2) the claimant has a
severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) the
claimant's impairment meets or equals any listed
impairment; (4) the claimant retains the residual functional
capacity to perform her past relevant work; and (5) the
claimant is able to perform any other work existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. Id.;
Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 885 (7th Cir.
2001). The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one
through four. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2);
Zurawski, 245 F.3d at 886. If that burden is met, at
step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish
that the claimant is capable of performing work existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability
onset date of March 31, 2014. (R. 14.) At step two, the ALJ
determined that plaintiff has the severe impairments of
“depression; anxiety; and diabetes mellitus.”
(Id.) At step three, however, the ALJ found that
plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments. (Id.) At step four,
the ALJ found that plaintiff retains the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to “perform medium work .
. . except the claimant can perform unskilled, simple, and
routine work that can be learned in thirty days or less; she
should have limited interaction with the public but can
answer incidental types of questions; occasional supervision;
and should work in a routine and predictable
environment.” (R. 17.) At step five, the ALJ determined
that plaintiff “is able to perform past relevant work
as a cleaner/housekeeping” because such work is not
precluded by her RFC. (R. 28.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act.
whose brief is wholly lacking in legal and factual analysis,
appears to argue that the ALJ erred in failing to give
controlling weight to the opinion of plaintiff's treating
physicians, Drs. Guzina and Fayyaz. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 1527(c)(2) (a treating physician's opinion is
entitled to controlling weight if it is “well-supported
by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial
evidence in [the] case record”). Dr. Guzina submitted a
report about plaintiff's physical function on March 9,
2013, less than a month after plaintiff suffered multiple
fractures in a car accident. (R. 21, 26.) At that time, Dr.
Guzina said plaintiff was “more than 50% reduced in
bending, standing, stooping, climbing, pushing, and pulling;
20-50% reduced in walking; and was up to 20% reduced in
sitting, travel (public conveyances), fine/gross
manipulation, right/left finger dexterity, and in the ability
to perform activities of daily living, ” and
“could not lift more than 10 pounds at a time.”
(R. 26-27.) The ALJ “accept[ed] this opinion as
reflective of [plaintiff's] condition one month after the
motor vehicle accident” but said that “the
medical records show that claimant was fully recovered [from
those injuries] as of September 2013.” (R. 27.) Thus,
the ALJ concluded that the limitations set forth in Dr.
Guzina's report “[were] not representative of
[plaintiff's] functioning for the entire period at
issue.” (R. 27.) The medical evidence fully supports
the ALJ's decision to limit Dr. Guzina's opinion to
the period in which it was issued. (See R. 563-70,
822, 825-73.) Thus, there is no error in the ALJ's
assessment of that opinion.
ALJ's assessment of Dr. Fayyaz's opinions is also
supported by the record. The ALJ noted that Dr. Fayyaz saw
plaintiff approximately monthly from July 2011 to January
2014, variously diagnosed plaintiff with major depression,
PTSD, and anxiety, recommended that plaintiff attend therapy,
and prescribed medications for her. (R. 19-23.) Dr. Fayyaz
did not, however, opine on the impact, if any, of
plaintiff's psychological conditions on her ability to
only opinion on that subject came from the independent
psychological expert, Dr. Rozenfeld, who acknowledged Dr.
Fayyaz's diagnoses, and testified that:
[Plaintiff's] mental status examinations reflect mild
anxiety and problems with sleep and nightmares but no
suicidal/homicidal ideations or hallucinations. [Plaintiff]
was observed as alert and cooperative. . . . [Plaintiff] did
not meet or equal any listing because there [were] no marked
limitations in the B criteria and there was no evidence of
psychiatric or even partial hospitalizations and her
symptomology does not equate to marked limitations. . . .
[Plaintiff] was generally compliant with medications, which
generally controlled her symptoms. . . . [Plaintiff] can
perform unskilled, simple, and routine tasks and attend and
concentrate to complete those types of tasks; only incidental
contact with the general public but is able to handle
co-worker contact and occasional supervisory contact; routine
and predictable work setting.
(R. 27.) The ALJ “accord[ed] great weight” to Dr.
Rozenfeld's opinion “because [she] had the
opportunity to see [plaintiff] in person, review the entirety
of the longitudinal record, testif[ied] from a completely
neutral and independent position, and render[ed] an opinion
well within her expertise that [was] consistent with the
medical evidence of record, ” id., all
considerations that are relevant to evaluating opinion
testimony. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c). Because
there was only one expert opinion about the extent to which
plaintiff's mental impairments limit her ability to work,
and the ALJ reasonably evaluated it, the Court has no basis
for overturning that evaluation.
also challenges the ALJ's credibility findings,
specifically that plaintiff's testimony was “vague,
evasive, and exaggerated, ” and that she
“appear[ed] to have exaggerated the degree of her
understanding of the English language.” (R. 24.) An ALJ
“is in the best position to determine the credibility
of witnesses.” Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668,
678 (7th Cir. 2008). Thus, the Court will “overturn a
credibility determination only if it is patently ...