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Webb v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 20, 2017

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


          M. David Weisman, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Pamela Webb filed this action seeking reversal of the Commissioner's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 638(c). (Dkt. 7.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion.

         I. Determining a Disability under the Act

         A claimant must show a disability under the Act in order to obtain disability insurance benefits. York v. Massanari, 155 F.Supp.2d 973, 978 (N.D. Ill. 2001). To do so, a claimant must establish 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 Social Security regulations provide a five-step, sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant suffers from a disability: (1) whether the claimant has performed any substantial gainful activity during the period for which she claims disability; (2) if not, whether she has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) if so, whether her impairment meets or equals any impairment enumerated in the regulations; (4) if not, whether she has the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work; and (5) if not, whether she can perform any other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 885 (7th Cir. 2001). “The burden of proof is on the claimant through step four; only at step five does the burden shift to the Commissioner.” Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000).

         II. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed for disability benefits on March 13, 1993. Her application was denied initially, upon reconsideration, and again denied in a January 25, 2010 decision following a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter “ALJ”) (R. 29). Plaintiff's request for review of the decision by the Appeals Council was denied on February 15, 2011, thus leaving the decision of the ALJ as the final decision of the Agency. (Id. 5.) On April 4, 2011 Plaintiff filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. (Id. at 813.) She was denied summary judgment on January 10, 2013 by United States Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys. (Id. at 752-811.) Plaintiff subsequently appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. (Id. at 816.) The Commissioner filed a motion for relief from judgment which was granted by the Court of Appeals on July 8, 2013. (Id. at 818.) The District Court remanded Plaintiff's application to the Appeals Council; the Appeals Counsel remanded the matter to the ALJ. (Id. at 823.)

         Plaintiff's application was denied, once again, by an ALJ on June 25, 2015.[2] (Id. at 597.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Applying the five-step analysis, the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity from the application date to March 10, 2013. (Id. at 573.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's HIV, asthma, morbid obesity, hearing loss, and major depressive disorder were serve impairments. (Id. at 574.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the impairments listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I. (Id. at 587.) Next, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's residual functional capacity. The ALJ found that Plaintiff could lift and carry ten pounds both occasionally and frequently. (Id. at 589.) The ALJ also concluded that, among other things, Plaintiff could sit, stand, and walk for six out of eight hours, work without hand or arm limitations, engage foot controls frequently, engage in personal hygiene, take public transportation, and perform simple, routine tasks. (Id. at 589-90.). At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have past relevant work. (Id. at 595.) At the final step, the ALJ concluded that, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, the national economy contained jobs in significant numbers that Plaintiff could perform. (Id.) In light of the foregoing factors, the ALJ held that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined by the Act, from the application date to March 10, 2013. (Id. at 596.)

         The Appeals Council declined Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 1-6, 15). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the Commissioner's final decision. Schmidt v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 833, 841 (7th Cir. 2007).

         III. Standard of Review

          Judicial 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 general, 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 42 U.S.C. § 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.”) (citations 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) (citations omitted). “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. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).

         Although 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 evidentiary 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. 2002).

         IV. Discussion

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because: (1) the ALJ erroneously rejected a treating psychiatrist's opinion; (2) miscalculated the percentage of the workday Plaintiff would have been off task and (3) improperly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility. (Pl's. Mem. at 9-12.) The Court agrees that the ALJ erroneously rejected a treating psychiatrist's opinion.

         A. Plaintiff's History of Depression

         At issue is whether the ALJ properly rejected treating psychiatrist Dr. Warikoo's assessment of Plaintiff's impairments caused by her depression. Plaintiff's long history of depression began in 1989 after the birth of her first child. (R. at 540.) She first received treatment for her depression in 1991, after a failed suicide attempt by overdose. (Id.) She was hospitalized for a week and received medication. (Id.) More recently, the record reflects Plaintiff was diagnosed with major depressive disorder by Dr. Helen Radomska, consultative psychiatrist, and Dr. Villanueva, consultative physician, both of whom evaluated Plaintiff at in the request of the Administration in September of 2007. (Id. at 369, 373.) Dr. Radomska assed Plaintiff's Global Assessment of Functioning (hereinafter “GAF”) score at 45. (See note 3, infra.) In the spring of 2008, Plaintiff reported symptoms of feeling depressed and tired during a physical examination. (R. 460.) In the fall of that same year, she sought treatment at the Englewood Mental Health Center three times. (Id. at 493.) Her psychologist, John Carlsen, diagnosed Plaintiff with major depressive order. (Id. at 495.) His notes from the appointments indicate that Plaintiff's symptoms included, sadness, excessive guilt, anxiety, extreme irritably, racing thoughts, loss of interest, not wanting to live, changes in appetite, and changes in sleep. (Id. at 499.) Plaintiff reported feeling ...

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