United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
CAROLYN D. HOLLOWAY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT DISTRICT JUDGE.
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Carolyn D.
Holloway, 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 in 2009 alleging disability beginning April 13,
2008. After holding an evidentiary hearing, Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) William Hafer denied benefits in a decision
dated December 3, 2010. (Tr. 11-18.) The Appeals Council
denied review. (Tr. 1-3.)
exhausted her administrative remedies and filed a timely
complaint with this Court, which reversed and remanded the
ALJ's decision on October 10, 2012. (Tr. 464-79.)
plaintiff's complaint was pending before this Court,
plaintiff filed an additional application for DIB in 2010.
(Tr. 731-38.) After an evidentiary hearing, ALJ James E.
Craig issued a partially favorable decision on August 21,
2012, finding that plaintiff became disabled on August 1,
2011. (Tr. 497-509.) The Appeals Council granted review of
ALJ Craig's decision and found that substantial evidence
did not support his determination that plaintiff was not
disabled prior to August 1, 2011. The Appeals Council
consolidated both of plaintiff's cases and remanded them
to the ALJ. (Tr. 488-89.)
remand, ALJ Craig found that plaintiff was not disabled
through August 1, 2011, in a decision dated March 18, 2014.
(Tr. 397.) The Appeals Council granted review and found that
plaintiff was not disabled through July 31, 2011. (Tr.
filed a timely complaint with this Court. (Tr. 1.)
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following points:
Appeals Council erred by not considering Dr. James
Appeals Council improperly adopted the ALJ's flawed
analysis of the medical evidence.
onset determination was not supported by substantial
Appeals Council erred by adopting the ALJ's credibility
qualify for DIB, a claimant must be disabled within the
meaning of the applicable statutes. For these purposes,
“disabled” means unable “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.
Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 674 (7th Cir. 2008);
accord Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565, 568-69
(7th Cir. 2011).
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, 512-13 (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
Decisions of the ALJ and the Appeals Council
remand, following the consolidation of plaintiff's cases,
ALJ Craig found that plaintiff was last insured through March
31, 2013, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
from her alleged onset date of April 13, 2008. From the onset
date through August 1, 2011, the ALJ found that plaintiff had
severe impairments of fibromyalgia, plantar fasciitis in
combination with heel spur and tarsal tunnel syndrome,
adjustment disorder, and anxiety.
Craig found that plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work
with the following exceptions: she could not push and/or pull
with her upper and lower extremities; she could not crawl but
could occasionally kneel, crouch, and stoop; she could
frequently reach, handle, finger, and feel; she could not
work at jobs that required exposure to weather, extreme cold,
wetness, humidity, moving mechanical parts, electric shock,
or high places; and she could not perform detailed or complex
work. She was also limited to work requiring an
of three or less.
conclusion, ALJ Craig found that plaintiff was capable of
performing past relevant work as a bartender and as a cashier
from April 13, 2008, through August 1, 2011, and ...