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Lanzi-Boland v. Berryhill

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

October 24, 2017

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


          Jeffrey T. Gilbert, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Claimant Allison Lanzi-Boland ("Claimant") seeks review of the final decision of Respondent Nancy A. Berry hill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying Claimant's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment [ECF Nos. 10 and 18] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c) and 405(g). For the reasons stated below, Claimant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 10] is granted, and the Commissioner's Motion [ECF No. 18] is denied. This matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.


         On November 30, 2012, Claimant filed her claim for DIB, alleging the onset of her disability as of October 28, 2009. (R. 198-204.) The claim was denied initially on April 24, 2013, and upon reconsideration on October 22, 2013, after which Claimant timely filed a request for a hearing. (R. 126.) Claimant, represented by non-attorney representative Carl Triebold, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Karen Sayon on December 8, 2014. (R. 44-80.) The ALJ also heard testimony from vocational expert (the "VE") Michelle Peters-Pagella. (R. 74-80.)

         On February 9, 2015, the ALJ denied Claimant's claim for DIB, based on a finding that she was not disabled under the Act. (R. 22-35.) The opinion followed the five-step evaluation process required by Social Security Regulations ("SSR").[2] 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity ("SGA") since her alleged onset date of October 28, 2009, through her date last insured of June 30, 2014. (R. 24.) At step two, the ALJ found that Claimant had the severe impairments of fibromyalgia, obesity, and carpal tunnel syndrome. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404 Subpart P., Appendix 1. (R. 27.)

         The ALJ then found Claimant had the residual functional capacity ("RFC")[3] to perform light work, except that she is "unable to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; is able to frequently but not constantly kneel and climb ramps and stairs; she is able to occasionally stoop; she is limited to frequent but not constant handling and fingering bilaterally; and her work should involve simple instructions and routine tasks." (R. 28.) Based on this RFC, the ALJ determined at step four that Claimant was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. (R. 34.) Lastly, at step five, the ALJ found that given Claimant's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Claimant could have performed, such as assembler, hand packer, or sorter. (R. 34-35.) Therefore, the ALJ found that Claimant had not been under a disability from October 28, 2009, through June 30, 2014, the date last insured. (R. 35.) The Social Security Administration ("SSA") Appeals Council declined to review the matter on July 11, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner and, therefore, reviewable by this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Haynes v. Baumhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005).


         A decision by an ALJ becomes the Commissioner's final decision if the Appeals Council denies a request for review. Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000). Under such circumstances, the district court reviews the decision of the ALJ. (Id.) Judicial review is limited to determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards in reaching his or her decision. Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009). The reviewing court may enter a judgment "affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the [Commissioner], with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 42 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). A "mere scintilla" of evidence is not enough. Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002). Even where there is adequate evidence in the record to support the decision, the findings will not be upheld if the ALJ does not "build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to the conclusion." Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008). In other words, if the Commissioner's decision lacks evidentiary support or adequate discussion of the issues, it cannot stand. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir. 2009). Though the standard of review is deferential, a reviewing court must "conduct a critical review of the evidence" before affirming the Commissioner's decision. Eichstadt v, Astrue, 534 F.3d 663, 665 (7th Cir. 2008). It may not, however, "displace the ALJ's judgment by reconsidering facts or evidence." Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Claimant alleges a number of errors on appeal. First, Claimant contends that the ALJ failed to properly analyze her fibromyalgia pursuant to SSR 12-2p, which resulted in an improper assessment of the treating source opinion evidence as well as her subjective symptom statements and credibility. [ECF. No. 11, at 5-14.] Next, Claimant asserts that the ALJ failed to build a complete record. (Id.) Finally, Claimant argues that the ALJ failed to properly assess her mental impairments. (Id.)

         A. The ALJ's Assessment of the Medical Opinion Evidence

         Claimant first argues that the ALJ erred in assessing the opinions of her treating physicians. [ECF No. 11, at 8-16.] Social Security regulations direct an ALJ to evaluate each medical opinion in the record. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).[4] Because of a treating physician's greater familiarity with the claimant's condition and the progression of her impairments, the opinion of a claimant's treating physician is entitled to controlling weight as long as it is supported by medical findings and is not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2); Loveless v. Cohin, 810 F.3d 502, 507 (7th Cir. 2016); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d at 870. When an ALJ decides not to give controlling weight to a claimant's treating physician, the ALJ must provide a sound explanation for doing so. Punzio v. Astrue, 630 F.3d 704, 710 (7th Cir. 2011); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2) ("We will always give good reasons in our . . . decisions for the weight we give your treating source's opinion.").

         Even when an ALJ provides good reasons for not giving controlling weight, she still must determine and articulate what weight, if any, to give the opinion. Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734, 740 (7th Cir. 2011). In making that determination, the regulations require the ALJ to consider a variety of factors, including: (1) the nature and duration of the examining relationship; (2) the length and extent of the treatment relationship; (3) the extent to which medical evidence supports the opinion; (4) the degree to which the opinion is consistent with the entire record; (5) the physician's specialization if applicable; and (6) other factors which validate or contradict the opinion. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c); Yuri v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 850, 860 (7th Cir. 2014); Moss v. Astrue, 555 F.3d 556, 561 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Here, the ALJ considered opinions from two of Claimant's treating physicians: Dr. Janet Leon, a rheumatologist, and Dr. Roberto Segura, a neurologist. (R. 32-33, 1150-54, 1157-61.) The ALJ accorded "little weight" to the opinions of Drs. Leon and Segura, and "great weight" to the opinions of the two state agency reviewing physicians. (R. 32-33.) The ALJ characterized the treating physicians' opinions as "broad conclusory statements that the claimant could not work full time, " and concluded that the "clinical and diagnostic testing that was reflected in all of the treating physicians' records fail to support this reduced work capacity." (R. 32.) The ALJ also considered the opinion of Claimant's treating chiropractor, Dr. Patrick Balsier, but dismissed it because he is not considered "an acceptable medical source." (Id.).

         1. Claimant's Treating Physicians

         a. ...

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