United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
THOMAS A. MOONEY Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT DISTRICT JUDGE.
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Thomas A.
Mooney seeks judicial review of the final agency decision
denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 423.
filed for DIB and SSI on May 13, 2013, alleging disability
beginning April 6, 2013. (Tr. 279-93.) These claims were
denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 108,
110, 129, 131.) Plaintiff then filed a request for an
evidentiary hearing, which administrative law judge (ALJ)
Lisa Leslie conducted in April 2015. (Tr. 156-60, 47-92.) ALJ
Leslie issued an unfavorable opinion in August 2015. (Tr.
19-46.) The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request
for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final agency
decision. (Tr. 1-6.) Plaintiff exhausted his administrative
remedies and filed a timely complaint with this Court. (Doc.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following points:
1. The ALJ erroneously evaluated the opinion of Dr. Andrew
Mahtani, plaintiff's primary care physician.
2. Substantial evidence did not support the credibility
qualify for SSI and/or DIB, 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.
Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 674 (7th Cir. 2008);
accord Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565, 568-69
(7th Cir. 2011).
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, 512-13 (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 no
mistakes of law were made. It is important to recognize that
the 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 any errors of law were made.
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, i.e.,
“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). However, while judicial
review is deferential, 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), and cases
Leslie followed the five-step analytical framework set forth
above. She determined plaintiff met the insured status
requirements through December 31, 2017, and had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
(Tr. 24.) She then opined plaintiff had severe impairments of
traumatic optic neuropathy in the right eye; history of right
humerus fracture with open reduction, internal fixation, and
acute radial nerve palsy; extensive head and face injuries
with resolved intracranial bleeding, facial reconstructive
surgery with internal fixation, and encephalomalacia; history
of vertebral compression fractures in the thoracic and lumbar
spines without canal or foraminal stenosis; and degenerative
disc disease. (Tr. 25.) ALJ Leslie found plaintiff did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (Tr.
27.) Furthermore, plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work
with several restrictions. (Tr. 28.) The ALJ opined plaintiff
was unable to perform past relevant work but was not disabled
because he could perform other jobs that existed in the
national economy. (Tr. 38-39.)
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.
agency forms, plaintiff indicated that blindness in his right
eye, an inability to use his right arm, and metal plating on
his face limited his ability to work. (Tr. 313.)
worked as the owner and chief manager of an auto-body repair
shop from 2007 to 2013, earning $1, 000 per week. (Tr. 314.)
After a motorcycle accident, he had to close his business and
let his employees go. (Tr. 326.)
the time he woke up until the time he went to bed, plaintiff
got dressed, took care of his hygiene, napped, took
medications, watched television, and went to doctor and
therapy appointments. Plaintiff tried to cook for his son,
but his son and his mother helped with cleaning, laundry, and
meals. Plaintiff's pain kept him awake at night. He could
not use his right arm or hand to do anything. (Tr. 320.) He
needed help with combing his hair, showering, eating, and
taking medications. He prepared small snacks for himself, but
his mom prepared meals for him. Plaintiff had difficulty
concentrating. He was not able to perform any household
chores. (Tr. 321.) Plaintiff rarely went outside because of
his blindness and disfigurement. He could not see well enough
to drive long distances. Plaintiff went grocery shopping once
a month. (Tr. 322.)
interests included motorcycles and working on cars. However,
he could no longer do either. He did not socialize a lot
because he was in pain and did not leave the house unless he
needed to. (Tr. 324-25.)
could lift five pounds. He could walk about one block before
needing a ten to fifteen minute break. He had memory and
concentration problems. (Tr. 324.)
could sit for about thirty minutes before he needed to stand
up and walk around. He experienced pain ...