United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JEFFREY T. GILBERT UNITED STATED MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Donald Stehlin ("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. 6.] The
parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment
pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
[ECF Nos. 25, 35.] For the reasons discussed below,
Claimant's motion for summary judgment is denied, and the
Commissioner's motion is granted. The decision of the
Commissioner is affirmed.
filed an application for disability insurance benefits on May
8, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of March 28, 2011.
(R. 58.) After an initial denial and a denial on
reconsideration, Claimant filed a request for an
administrative hearing. (Id. at 66, 77, 92.)
Claimant appeared and testified before an Administrative Law
Judge (the "ALJ") on September 10, 2014.
(Id. at 24-57.) A vocational expert, Stephen
Sprauer, also testified at the hearing. (Id.)
November 12, 2014, 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. (R.
10-22.) 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 that
Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since his alleged onset date of March 28, 2011. (R. 12.) At
step two, the ALJ found that Claimant had the severe
impairment of degenerative disc disease. (Id.) At
step three, the ALJ found that 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.) (Id. at 13.)
step four, the ALJ found that Claimant had the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work
with the following limitations: Claimant can never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can no more than occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl
and twist at the waist. (R. 14-15.) Based on this RFC, the
ALJ determined at step four that Claimant is capable of
performing past relevant work as a landscape supervisor. (R.
18.) Because of this determination, the ALJ found that
Claimant was not disabled under the Social Security Act.
December 10, 2014, Claimant sought review of the ALJ's
decision, (R. 5-6.) On January 21, 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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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.
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.
"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).
presents three issues for review. First, Claimant argues that
the ALJ's conclusion at step three was not supported by
substantial evidence. (Pl.'s Mem. at 6.) Second, Claimant
contends that the ALJ erred in determining Claimant's
RFC. (Id. at 9.) Finally, Claimant argues that the
ALJ erred in assessing the credibility of Claimant's
testimony and allegations. (Id. at 13, )
The ALJ's Step Three Finding Is Supported by Substantial
argues that the ALJ's step three analysis is erroneous
(1) because it is perfunctory; and (2) because it fails to
undertake an equivalence analysis. The Court addresses each
argument in turn.
The ALJ's step three analysis is not perfunctory
three in the sequential evaluation process, an ALJ must
determine whether a claimant's impairment meets or
medically equals one of the impairments found within the
regulatory listings. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. If so- and if the
impairment has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous
period of at least twelve months-the claimant is presumed to
be "disabled." See Barnett v. Barnhart,381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509
("We call this [twelvemonth condition] the duration
requirement."). A claimant "has the burden of
showing that his impairments meet a listing" and
"must show that his impairments satisfy all of the
various criteria specified in the listing." Ribaudo
v. Barnhart,458 F.3d 580, 583 (7th Cir. 2006).
Nevertheless, when the ALJ fails to mention the specific
listing she is considering and only provides
"perfunctory analysis, " remand may be required.
See Id. at 583 (quoting Barnett, 381 F.3d
at 668); see also Rice v. ...