United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Darrin
Hunt seeks judicial review of the final agency decision
denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
applied for benefits in April 2011, alleging a disability
beginning April 15, 2010. (Tr. 18.) After holding an
evidentiary hearing, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) William
E. Sampson denied plaintiff's claim in 2012. (Tr. 18-30.)
The Appeals Council denied review of the decision, plaintiff
appealed to this Court, and the ALJ's decision was
reversed and remanded. (Tr. 830-48.) ALJ Sampson held a
subsequent evidentiary hearing in 2016 and issued another
unfavorable decision. (Tr. 725-764; 696-724.) Plaintiff
exhausted his administrative remedies and filed a timely
complaint with this Court. (Doc. 1.)
qualify for SSI, a claimant must be disabled within the
meaning of the applicable statutes. For these purposes,
“disabled” means 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).
“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.
Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565, 568-569 (7th
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, 512-513 (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
the Commissioner made no mistakes of law. This 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 the ALJ made any errors of law. 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: “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). While judicial review is
deferential, however, 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).
Decision of the ALJ
Sampson followed the five-step analytical framework set forth
above. He determined plaintiff last met the insured status
requirement on September 30, 2015 and had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
(Tr. 701.) The ALJ found plaintiff had severe impairments of
post laminectomy syndrome and coronary artery disease (CAD).
(Tr. 701.) ALJ Sampson determined plaintiff had the RFC to
perform light work with additional limitations, which
precluded him from performing any past relevant work. (Tr.
705-14.) He found, however, that plaintiff was not disabled
because he could perform other jobs that existed in the
economy. (Tr. 715-16.)
Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary
record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The
following summary of the record is directed to the points
raised by plaintiff.
Darrin Hunt is a 46-year-old male. In his initial disability
report from 2011, plaintiff alleged lumbar radiculitis,
radiculopathy lumbosacral, chronic lower back pain, weakness
in the lower extremities, and surgery on the L4/5-S limited
his ability to work. He was prescribed Cymbalta, Methadone,
Prednisone, Tizanidine, and Zolpidem. (Tr. 146.) In the
latest function report, plaintiff stated he spent half of the
day lying down or reclining to relieve pain and fatigue. On a
typical day, he took his medications, woke his children for
school, showered, checked the mail, watched television, read
a book, and made a bowl of cereal, Poptarts, and/or a
sandwich. He could occasionally fold laundry while sitting
down or put clothes in the washer and dryer. He needed
someone to bring him the clothesbasket to avoid lifting and
bending at the waist. He did not do house or yard work
because they induced pain. Plaintiff could drive, albeit
limitedly. His wife shopped while he leaned on the cart for
support. His conditions made it difficult to handle money
because he had trouble staying on task. Plaintiff regularly
went to his mother's house, the grocery store, and
Wal-Mart. He could walk about half a block at a slow pace
before he needed to rest for a few minutes. (Tr. 1014-21.)
remand, ALJ Sampson presided over an evidentiary hearing,
which took place on May 11, 2016. (Tr. 725-64.)
Plaintiff's attorney stated plaintiff was incapable of
sustaining sedentary work due to failed back syndrome (FBS).
Plaintiff spent up to three-quarters of his day laying down
or reclining. (Tr. 729-30.)
testified he sometimes experienced pain when he walked
slowly. After his back surgery, plaintiff could not sit
through an entire movie at the theatre because he had to
periodically stand up to stretch. (Tr. 735.) Plaintiff's
doctor suggested he avoid sitting for more than thirty
minutes at a time, and to sit in a firm chair with a straight
back when sitting. Plaintiff stated this “didn't
work very good, ” so he laid in a recliner. He had to
frequently change positions. (Tr. 738-39.) Reclining helped
manage his pain. (Tr. 742.) Plaintiff had a TENS unit, which
he used a couple of times each week for about a half an hour
at a time. (Tr. 741-42.) Plaintiff's pain was never
“a zero.” (Tr. 742.) His medication helped
tremendously, although there was room for improvement. (Tr.
743.) On a scale of one to ten, plaintiff's pain level
with his medications was a five to six. (Tr. 746-47.)
Plaintiff received pain injections every six to eight weeks,
which made his pain more bearable. (Tr. 747.) Walking a half
a block aggravated plaintiff's pain. (Tr. 747-48.)
vocational expert (VE) also testified regarding several
hypothetical individuals with the same age, education, and
work experience as plaintiff who had various functional
limitations. The VE opined that a person who had two