United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
JACOB W. CLENDENIN, 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 Jacob
Clendenin (plaintiff), represented by counsel, seeks judicial
review of the final agency decision denying his application
for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
initially applied for benefits in June 2011, alleging
disability beginning on April 10, 2005. An evidentiary
hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Stuart
T. Janney, who issued an unfavorable decision on April 17,
2013. (Tr. 20-28). The Appeals Council denied review, and
plaintiff filed a timely complaint with this Court, which
reversed and remanded the ALJ's decision on June 19,
2015. (Tr. 443-62). The Appeals Council issued an order
remanding this case to ALJ Janney, and an additional hearing
was held on December 14, 2015. (Tr. 466, 289). ALJ Janney
issued another unfavorable decision on February 3, 2016. (Tr.
289-301). Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies and
filed a timely complaint in this Court on June 2, 2016.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following points:
1. The ALJ erred in failing to identify the evidentiary basis
of his assessment of plaintiff's RFC.
2. The ALJ erred in evaluating the limiting effects of
3. The ALJ erred by violating the law of the case doctrine.
qualify for SSI and/or 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
Janney followed the five-step analytical framework described
above. He determined that plaintiff had not been engaged in
substantial gainful activity since his application date. He
further found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of
Chiari malformation, syringomyelia, hypertension, level III
obesity, tremors, and headaches. (Tr. 291).
Janney held that plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work
with physical limitations. Based on the testimony of a
vocational expert (VE), the ALJ found that plaintiff could
perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the
national economy and was therefore, not disabled. (Tr.
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.
Court previously summarized plaintiff's disability and
function reports during its initial review of plaintiff's
claim. (Tr. 448-452). In sum, plaintiff alleged the following
physical and mental conditions limited his ability to work:
Chiari malformation of the brain, syringomyelia, chronic
headaches, numbness in feet, ...