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 Karen
Louann Stevenson, represented by counsel, seeks review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying
her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 423.
applied for disability benefits in August 2014 alleging
disability beginning on August 6, 2014. (Tr. 331, 338.) After
holding an evidentiary hearing, ALJ Mathias Onderak denied
the applications on February 9, 2016. (Tr. 175-84.) The
Appeals Council granted plaintiff's request for review.
(Tr. 189.) After remand by the Appeals Council, ALJ Onderak
held another hearing and again denied the applications on
September 6, 2016. (Tr. 19-32.) The Appeals Council denied
review, and the September 6, 2016, decision became the final
agency decision subject to judicial review. (Tr. 1.)
has exhausted administrative remedies and has filed a timely
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following issues:
residual functional capacity (RFC) determination was not
supported by substantial evidence.
credibility determination was erroneous.
qualify for DIB or SSI, a claimant must be disabled within
the meaning of the applicable statutes. For these
purposes, “disabled” means unable “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). 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 Secretary 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
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 understand that
the scope of judicial 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 during
the period under review, 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). 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
Decision of the ALJ
Onderak followed the five-step analytical framework described
above. He determined that Ms. Stevenson had not been engaged
in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date
and that she was insured for DIB through December 31,
found that plaintiff had severe impairments of cystocele
without mention of uterine prolapse, overactive bladder,
female stress/urge incontinence, non-insulin dependent type 2
diabetes with related mild peripheral neuropathy, and
dizziness. He found that these impairments do not
meet or equal a listed impairment.
also found that plaintiff suffered from depression and
personality disorder but that these were not severe
impairments. Accordingly, he did not assess any mental
Onderak concluded that plaintiff had the RFC to perform a
full range of work at all exertional levels with the
• Close proximity to an accessible bathroom;
• Option to take regularly scheduled work breaks at her