United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
PAULA A. LOPEZ, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
David Weisman Magistrate Judge
Paula A. Lopez appeals the Commissioner's decision
denying her application for Social Security benefits. For the
reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the
filed an application for benefits on January 22, 2013. (R.
97.) Her application was denied initially on May 8, 2013, and
again on reconsideration on October 25, 2013. (R. 74, 97.)
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on March 26, 2015.
(R. 17-73.) On May 5, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying
plaintiff's application. (R. 122-41.) The Appeals Council
denied review (R. 1-3), leaving the ALJ's decision as the
final decision of the Commissioner. See Villano v.
Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).
Court reviews the ALJ's decision deferentially, affirming
if it is supported by “substantial evidence in the
record, ” i.e., “‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” White v. Sullivan,
965 F.2d 133, 136 (7th Cir. 1992) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). “Although this
standard is generous, it is not entirely uncritical, ”
and the case must be remanded if the “decision lacks
evidentiary support.” Steele v. Barnhart, 290
F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).
the Social Security Act, disability is defined as 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). The regulations prescribe a five-part
sequential test for determining whether a claimant is
disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Under the
regulations, the Commissioner must consider: (1) whether the
claimant has performed any substantial gainful activity
during the period for which she claims disability; (2) if
not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment or
combination of impairments; (3) if so, whether the
claimant's impairment meets or equals any listed
impairment; (4) if not, whether the claimant retains the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
her past relevant work; and (5) if not, whether she is unable
to perform any other work existing in significant numbers in
the national economy. Id.; Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 885 (7th Cir. 2001). The claimant
bears the burden of proof at steps one through four, and if
that burden is met, the burden shifts at step five to the
Commissioner to provide evidence that the claimant is capable
of performing work existing in significant numbers in the
national economy. See 20 C.F.R. §
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability
onset date of October 1, 2006. (R. 124.) At step two, the ALJ
found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of
“asthma; dermatitis; depression and anxiety.”
(Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments. (R. 125.) At step four, the
ALJ found that plaintiff did not have any past relevant work
but had the RFC to perform light work with additional
restrictions, and thus was not disabled. (R. 126-27, 140-41.)
contends that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of Dr.
Chadha, who has treated plaintiff since November 2006.
(See R. 1074.) Dr. Chadha's
“opinion” consists of a list of plaintiff's
conditions (asthma, anxiety, depression, GERD
[Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease], and sleeping difficulty)
and symptoms (difficulty breathing, feelings of anxiousness,
sadness and depression, abdominal pain, and inability to
sleep), and the following statement: “[Plaintiff] is
mostly limited by her mental health. (Depression) I don't
think she can handle 40 hr a week. She has underlying lung
disease as well, severe asthma.” (R. 1074-75.)
this cursory statement even constitutes a “medical
opinion” is debatable, though the ALJ characterized it
as one. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(a)(1),
416.927(a)(1) (“Medical opinions are statements from
acceptable medical sources that reflect judgments about the
nature and severity of your impairment(s), including your
symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis, what you can still do
despite impairment(s), and your physical or mental
restrictions.”). Presuming Dr. Chadha's statement
is a “medical opinion, ” however, an ALJ must
give a treating physician's opinion controlling weight
only if “it is well-supported by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the]
case record.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2);
Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 2011).
“If an ALJ does not give a treating physician's
opinion controlling weight, the regulations require the ALJ
to consider the length, nature, and extent of the treatment
relationship, frequency of examination, the physician's
specialty, the types of tests performed, and the consistency
and supportability of the physician's opinion.”
Moss v. Astrue, 555 F.3d 556, 561 (7th Cir. 2009);
see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).
the ALJ acknowledged that Dr. Chadha was plaintiff's
“long-term treat[er], ” the ALJ gave
“little weight” to Dr. Chadha's opinion
[It] is not supported by treatment notes or the record
overall. . . . [W]hile Dr. Chadha noted the claimant's
impairments of anxiety and depression, there is no evidence
that Dr. Chadha performed any psychological or mental
evaluation or testing of the claimant's functioning or
limitations with respect to these conditions. There is no
indication he treated the claimant for these conditions aside
from prescribing medication for the claimant as he referred
the claimant to psychiatry . . . . Dr. Chadha noted that the
claimant's physical impairments are not disabling . . . .
Further, the opinion is vague, unsupported and is couched as
a purely speculative guess compared to the definitiveness of
[the opinions of the medical expert] Dr. Munoz and the DDS
state agency experts.
argues that this assessment is flawed because it does not
explicitly address every factor set forth in the regulations.
The Seventh Circuit, ...