United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
TERRI L. HARTLINE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Terri L.
Hartline (plaintiff), represented by counsel, seeks judicial
review of the final agency decision denying her application
for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
filed for DIB on May 15, 2012, alleging disability beginning
on August 1, 2009. (Tr. 11). After holding an evidentiary
hearing, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Patricia Witkowski
Supergan denied the application on September 15, 2014. (Tr.
11-19). The Appeals Council denied review, and the decision
of the ALJ became the final agency decision. (Tr. 1).
Administrative remedies have been exhausted and a timely
complaint was filed in this Court.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following points:
1. The ALJ erred by not giving the opinion of plaintiff's
treating physician controlling weight.
2. The ALJ erred in finding plaintiff not credible.
qualify for DIB, a claimant must be disabled within the
meaning of the applicable statutes. For these purposes,
“disabled” means 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).
“physical or mental impairment” is an impairment
resulting from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(3). “Substantial gainful activity”
is work activity that involves doing significant physical or
mental activities, and that is done for pay or profit. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1572.
Security regulations set forth a sequential five-step inquiry
to determine whether a claimant is disabled. The Seventh
Circuit Court of Appeals has explained this process as
The first step considers whether the applicant is engaging in
substantial gainful activity. The second step evaluates
whether an alleged physical or mental impairment is severe,
medically determinable, and meets a durational requirement.
The third step compares the impairment to a list of
impairments that are considered conclusively disabling. If
the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments,
then the applicant is considered disabled; if the impairment
does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then the
evaluation continues. The fourth step assesses an
applicant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and
ability to engage in past relevant work. If an applicant can
engage in past relevant work, he is not disabled. The fifth
step assesses the applicant's RFC, as well as his age,
education, and work experience to determine whether the
applicant can engage in other work. If the applicant can
engage in other work, he is not disabled.
Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565, 568-569 (7th
another way, it must be determined: (1) whether the claimant
is presently unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has an
impairment or combination of impairments that is serious; (3)
whether the impairments meet or equal one of the listed
impairments acknowledged to be conclusively disabling; (4)
whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and (5)
whether the claimant is capable of performing any work within
the economy, given his or her age, education and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Simila v.
Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 512-513 (7th Cir. 2009);
Schroeter v. Sullivan, 977 F.2d 391, 393 (7th Cir.
answer at steps one and two is “yes, ” the
claimant will automatically be found disabled if he or she
suffers from a listed impairment, determined at step three.
If the claimant does not have a listed impairment at step
three, and cannot perform his or her past work (step four),
the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show
that the claimant can perform some other job. Rhoderick
v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984). See
also Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir.
2001) (Under the five-step evaluation, an “affirmative
answer leads either to the next step, or, on Steps 3 and 5,
to a finding that the claimant is disabled. . . . If a
claimant reaches step 5, the burden shifts to the ALJ to
establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in
the national economy.”).
Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to ensure that
the decision is supported by substantial evidence and that no
mistakes of law were made. It is important to recognize that
the scope of review is limited. “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). Thus, this Court must determine not
whether plaintiff was, in fact, disabled at the relevant
time, but whether the ALJ's findings were supported by
substantial evidence and whether any errors of law were made.
See Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 977-78 (7th Cir.
1996) (citing Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 306 (7th
Cir. 1995)). This Court uses the Supreme Court's
definition of substantial evidence, i.e., “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
reviewing for “substantial evidence, ” the entire
administrative record is taken into consideration, but this
Court does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts,
decide questions of credibility, or substitute its own
judgment for that of the ALJ. Brewer v. Chater, 103
F.3d 1384, 1390 (7th Cir. 1997); Moore v. Colvin,
743 F.3d 1118, 1121 (7th Cir. 2014). However, while judicial
review is deferential, it is not abject; this Court does not
act as a rubber stamp for the Commissioner. See Parker v.
Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010)(and cases
Decision of the ALJ
Supergan followed the five-step analytical framework
described above. She determined that plaintiff had not been
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date and that plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: obesity, degenerative disk disease, degenerative
joint disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and headaches. (Tr.
13). ALJ Supergan then found that plaintiff had the RFC to
perform sedentary work, with the exception that she could
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, and
crawl; tolerate occasional exposure to extreme cold and heat,
wetness, humidity, vibration, fumes, and other pulmonary
irritants; tolerate occasional exposure to hazards such as
moving machinery or unprotected heights; perform unskilled
work tasks that could be learned by demonstration or in
thirty days or less if simple, repetitive, and routine
nature; and that she would need to change positions every
thirty minutes or hourly, for one to two minutes. (Tr. 14).
Finally, the ALJ found that plaintiff could not perform past
relevant work, but nonetheless was not disabled because jobs
existed in significant numbers in the national economy that
plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 17-18).
Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary
record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The
following summary of the record is directed to the points
raised by plaintiff.
was born on September 26, 1975. (Tr. 181). She worked as an
admitting clerk at a hospital from 1995 until 2003, and as a
legal secretary from 2003 until 2009. (Tr. 186). Before this,
plaintiff also held positions as a receptionist and a sales
clerk. (Tr. 200). She claimed she was unable to work due to
her inability to stand or sit for long periods of time, and
occasional diarrhea that could last for multiple days. (Tr.
208). She was also unable to read for long periods.
stated that she cared for her husband, daughter,
stepdaughter, and two small dogs by doing what she could to
assist with everyday living. (Tr. 209). Her husband cleaned,
cooked, and did laundry when she was unable to. Id.
She prepared family meals approximately once or twice per
week. (Tr. 210). Plaintiff needed assistance with vacuuming,
sweeping, and laundry, but could dust. Id. According
to plaintiff, everyday chores were very difficult and took
extra time to complete. (Tr. 215).