United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND, United States Magistrate Judge
Michele Babette Lamantia filed this action seeking reversal
of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title II
and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), 423 et. seq., 1381 et seq. The parties
have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States
Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and
filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons
stated below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
recover DIB or SSI, a claimant must establish that he or she
is disabled within the meaning of the Act. York v.
Massanari, 155 F.Supp.2d 973, 977 (N.D. Ill.
2001). A person is disabled if he or she is
unable to perform “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.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1505(a), 416.905(a). In determining whether a claimant
suffers from a disability, the Commissioner conducts a
standard five-step inquiry:
1. Is the claimant presently unemployed?
2. Does the claimant have a severe medically determinable
physical or mental impairment that interferes with basic
work-related activities and is expected to last at least 12
3. Does the impairment meet or equal one of a list of
specific impairments enumerated in the regulations?
4. Is the claimant unable to perform his or her former
5. Is the claimant unable to perform any other work?
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 404.1520, 416.909, 416.920;
see Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir.
2000). “An affirmative answer leads either to the next
step, or, on Steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is
disabled. A negative answer at any point, other than Step 3,
ends the inquiry and leads to a determination that a claimant
is not disabled.” Zalewski v. Heckler, 760
F.2d 160, 162 n.2 (7th Cir. 1985). “The burden of proof
is on the claimant through step four; only at step five does
the burden shift to the Commissioner.”
Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868.
applied for DIB and SSI benefits on December 3, 2009,
alleging that she became disabled on September 15, 2008, due
to grand mal seizures, prior heart attack, depression, high
blood pressure, asthma, allergies, and left ankle problems.
(R. at 20, 424). The application was denied initially and
upon reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely
request for a hearing. (Id. at 20, 163-66, 216-24).
Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at
a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on
February 15, 2012, and at a supplemental hearing on October
16. (Id. at 20, 84-162). The ALJ denied
Plaintiff's request for benefits on November 30, 2012.
(Id. at 20, 170-81). After Plaintiff filed a request
for review, the Appeals Council (AC) vacated the November 30
decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.
(Id. at 20, 190-92).
12, 2014, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a
remand hearing before a different ALJ. (R. at 20, 42-83). The
ALJ also heard testimony from Thomas A. Gusloff, a vocational
expert (VE), Judy Panek, M.D., a medical expert (ME), and
David L. Biscardi, Ph.D., another ME. (Id. at 20,
denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on September 18,
2014. (R. at 20- 33). Applying the five-step sequential
evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since September 15, 2008, the alleged onset date.
(Id. at 24). At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff's seizure disorder, degenerative cervical spine
arthritis, arthralgias, left ankle fracture history, history
of coronary artery disease, depression, and history of sub-
stance abuse are severe impairments. (Id.). At step
three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments,
including the substance abuse disorder, meet listing 12.09.
(Id. at 24-25). If Plaintiff stopped the substance
use, the ALJ found the remaining limitations would cause more
than a minimal impact on Plaintiff's ability to perform
basic activities. (Id. at 26). Further, if Plaintiff
stopped the substance use, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
does not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that meet or medically equal the severity of any of the
listings enumerated in the regulations. (Id. at
then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity
(RFC) and determined that if she stopped the
substance abuse, she could perform light work, except:
[Plaintiff] can occasionally operate foot controls with the
left foot, [Plaintiff] can never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffold [sic], [Plaintiff] can occasionally climb
ramps/stairs, stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl; [Plaintiff] can
balance on a frequent basis. [Plaintiff] can occasionally
perform overhead manipulation. [Plaintiff] is to avoid
extreme concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, dust,
and fumes. [Plaintiff] is to avoid work at unprotected
heights and heavy moving machinery. [Plaintiff] is limited to
simple, routine, repetitive work, 1-3 step tasks, interact
occasionally with the public, co-workers and supervisors.
(R. at 27; see Id. at 27-31). Based on
Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ
determined at step four that if Plaintiff stopped the
substance use, she would be unable to perform any past
relevant work. (Id. at 31). At step five, based on
Plaintiff's RFC, her vocational factors, and the VE's
testimony, the ALJ determined that if Plaintiff stopped the
substance use, there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform,
including photocopy machiner, inserting machine operator, and
bagger of garments. (Id. at 31-32). Even if
Plaintiff was limited to sedentary work with the same
nonexertional limitations, the VE testified there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that Plaintiff can perform, including cutter and paster,
information clerk, and toy stuffer. (Id. at 32).
Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that the substance use
disorder is a contributing, material factor because Plaintiff
would not be disabled if she stopped the substance use.
(Id.). Therefore, Plaintiff is not suffering from a
disability as defined by the Act. (Id. at 32-33).
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
November 10, 2015. (R. at 6-8). Plaintiff now seeks judicial
review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556
F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of the Commissioner's final decision is authorized
by § 405(g) of the Act. In reviewing this decision, the
Court may not engage in its own analysis of whether the
plaintiff is severely impaired as defined by the Social
Security Regulations. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d
995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Nor may it “reweigh
evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, decide questions
of credibility, or, in gen- eral, substitute [its] own
judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Id.
The Court's task is “limited to determining whether
the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial
evidence.” Id. (citing § 405(g)).
Evidence is considered substantial “if a reasonable
person would accept it as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d
470, 473 (7th Cir. 2004); see Moore v. Colvin, 743
F.3d 1118, 1120-21 (7th Cir. 2014) (“We will uphold the
ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial
evidence, that is, such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.”) (citation omitted). “Substantial
evidence must be more than a scintilla but may be less than a
preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d
836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). “In addition to relying on
substantial evidence, the ALJ must also explain his analysis
of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit
meaningful appellate review.” Briscoe ex rel.
Taylor v. Barn-hart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005).
this Court accords great deference to the ALJ's
determination, it “must do more than merely rubber
stamp the ALJ's decision.” Scott v.
Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation
omitted). “This deferential standard of review is
weighted in favor of upholding the ALJ's decision, but it
does not mean that we scour the record for supportive
evidence or rack our brains for reasons to uphold the
ALJ's decision. Rather, the ALJ must identify the
relevant evidence and build a ‘logical bridge'
between that evidence and the ultimate determination.”
Moon v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 718, 721 (7th Cir. 2014).
Where the Commissioner's decision “lacks eviden-
tiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent
meaningful review, the case must be remanded.”
Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir.
RELEVANT MEDICAL EVIDENCE
first began experiencing seizures at age 16, following a
fall. (R. at 862). They became worse but by 2009, she
experienced them only three times per year. (Id. at
17, 2007, Plaintiff presented to the emergency room after
passing out at home. (R. at 694). She reported drinking more
than usual. (Id.). On June 5, she presented to the
emergency room for an evaluation of psychosis. (Id.
at 629). She acknowledged drinking heavily for the prior two
weeks. (Id. at 629-30). She was diagnosed with
alcohol intoxication, possible medication reaction, and
possible psychosis. (Id. at 630). On June 8,
Plaintiff was admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of
acute alcohol intoxication. (Id. at 627). On July
15, 2008, she was admitted to the hospital after complaining
of shakiness. (Id. at 730). Her boyfriend reported
that she had been drinking heavily the night before; her
blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in the emergency room was
0.40. (Id.). She was assessed with
shakiness, most probably secondary to hypoglycemia, history
of seizure disorder, and alcohol abuse. (Id. at
January 6, 2009, Roopa K. Kari, M.D., performed an internal
medicine consultative examination on behalf of the
Commissioner. (R. at 856-60). Plaintiff was able to get on
and off the exam table and ambulate 50 feet without support.
(Id. at 859). Her gait was nonantalgic, range of
motion normal, and straight leg test negative.
(Id.). Dr. Kari's diagnostic impression included
a history of grand mal seizures, history of coronary artery
disease, depression, history of asthma, history of
hypertension, and history of alcoholism. (Id.).
same day, Barbara F. Sherman, Psy.D., performed a
psychological examination on behalf of the Commissioner. (R.
at 862-67). Plaintiff admitted to prior daily use of alcohol
before entering a rehabilitation program; she had been in
remission but relapsed recently following her mother's
sudden death. (Id. at 863, 866). In the prior year,
she was hospitalized after unintentionally taking an overdose
of sleeping medications. (Id. at 866). Plaintiff
reported no problems with socialization and generally can
take care of herself but needs supervision at all times
because of her seizure history. (Id. at 864). She
cries often, is sometimes lethargic, has impaired
concentration, appetite and sleeping, but denied
hallucinations, delusions, and suicidal or homicidal
ideations. (Id. at 864-65). On examination,
Plaintiff was not fully time oriented, but was oriented to
person and place. (Id. at 864). Her speech,
concentration, memory, fund of knowledge, and conceptual and
calculation abilities were all normal. (Id. at 865).
She did exhibit some attention and judgment deficits.
(Id.). Dr. Sherman diagnosed alcohol abuse disorder,
posttraumatic stress disorder, major depression, single
episode, and seizure disorder. (Id. at 866).
was admitted to the Good Samaritan Hospital on January 12,
2009, after complaint of shortness of breath. (R. at 875).
She acknowledged that she had stopped taking her seizure
medicines six to eight weeks prior. (Id. at 875).
She was diagnosed with alcohol intoxication, along with chest
pain and seizure disorder. (Id. at 878). The
attending physician advised her to stop drinking and ...