Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Holloway v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 14, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.[1]



         In 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. § 423.

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff 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.)

         Plaintiff 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.)

         While 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.)

         Following 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. 369-72.)

         Plaintiff filed a timely complaint with this Court. (Tr. 1.)

         Issues Raised by Plaintiff

         Plaintiff raises the following points:

         1. The Appeals Council erred by not considering Dr. James Graham's opinion.

         2. The Appeals Council improperly adopted the ALJ's flawed analysis of the medical evidence.

         3. The onset determination was not supported by substantial evidence.

         4. The Appeals Council erred by adopting the ALJ's credibility determination.

         Applicable Legal Standards

         To 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).

         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.

         Social 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 follows:

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).

         Stated 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. 1992).

         If the 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.”).

         This 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).

         In 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 cited therein.

         The Decisions of the ALJ and the Appeals Council

         On 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.

         ALJ 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 SVP[2] of three or less.

         In 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 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.