United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
CAROLINE M. SCHUCK, Claimant,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JEFFREY T. GILBERT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Caroline M. Schuck ("Claimant") seeks review of the
final decision of Respondent Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security (the
"Commissioner"), denying Claimant's
applications for disability insurance under Title II of the
Social Security Act and supplemental security income under
Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c) and Local Rule 73.1, the parties have consented
to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge for
all proceedings, including entry of final judgment. [ECF No.
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, both Claimant and the
Commissioner moved for summary judgment. [ECF Nos. 20, 27.]
For the reasons stated below, Claimant's Motion for
Summary Judgment is granted, and the Commissioner's
Motion for Summary Judgment is denied. The decision of the
Commissioner is reversed, and the case is remanded for
further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion
filed applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income on November 14, 2012, alleging a
disability onset date of November 26, 2007. (R. 14.) After an
initial denial and a denial on reconsideration, Claimant
filed a request for an administrative hearing. (R. 151-52.)
Claimant, represented by counsel, appeared and testified
before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on
August 18, 2014. (R. 28-86.) A Vocational Expert
("VE") also testified. (R. 77-84.)
January 29, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Claimant's applications for disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income based on a finding that,
from her alleged onset date through the date of the ALJ's
decision, Claimant was not disabled under the Social Security
Act. (R. 11-27.) The opinion followed the five-step
sequential evaluation process required by Social Security
Regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. As an initial matter,
the ALJ noted Claimant met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act through March 31, 2009. (R. 16.) At
step one, the ALJ found that although Claimant had worked
after the alleged disability onset date, her work activity
did not rise to the level of substantial gainful activity,
and therefore, Claimant had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since November 26, 2007. (Id.) At
step two, the ALJ found Claimant had the severe impairment of
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine status-post
fusion. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found 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. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926)
("the Listings") (R. 17.)
step four, the ALJ determined Claimant's residual
functional capacity ("RFC") changed during the
alleged period of disability and, therefore, the ALJ crafted
two RFC determinations. The first RFC covered the time-period
from November 26, 2007 through December 1, 2011, during which
the ALJ determined that Claimant had the RFC to perform light
work, but could only lift and carry twenty pounds
occasionally and ten pounds frequently. (R. 17.) Claimant
also could only stand or walk for two hours and sit for six
hours during an eight-hour workday. (Id.) She could
occasionally climb ramps or stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, or
crawl, but she could never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolding. (Id.) The second RFC applied to
Claimant's ability to work after December 2, 2011, and
the ALJ determined that Claimant continued to have the
ability to perform light work with the additional limitation
that she could sit continuously for thirty minutes and stand
or walk continuously for forty-five minutes, and between
these activities Claimant would need five minutes in a
different position. (R. 17.) The ALJ also found that Claimant
should avoid "concentrated exposure to hazardous
machines with moving mechanical parts, work in high exposed
places, and working with sharp objects." (Id.)
Based on this RFC determination, the ALJ concluded at step
four that Claimant was not capable of performing her past
relevant work. (R. 20.)
five, the ALJ considered whether Claimant is able to do other
work given her RFC, age, education, and work experience.
(Id.) Based on Claimant's age, education, and
work experience, the ALJ determined there are a significant
number of jobs that exist in the economy for Claimant.
(Id.) Because of this determination, the ALJ found
Claimant was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R.
21.) The Social Security Appeals Council subsequently denied
Claimant's request for review, and the ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1-7.)
See 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. Barnhart, 416
F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005).
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 his 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. Per ales, 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 the
ALJ erred in her assessment of Claimant's RFC by not
supporting her determination with substantial evidence. (Pl.s
Mem. [ECF No. 20], at 8-11.) Second, Claimant argues the ALJ
erred by giving little weight to the opinion of
Claimant's treating physician. (Id. at 12-15.)