United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
DEBRA J. JEREMIAH, 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 Debra J.
Jeremiah seeks judicial review of the final agency decision
denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
filed for DIB in October 2012, alleging a disability onset
date of January 31, 2010. (Tr. 177-82, 183-84.)
Plaintiff's claim was initially denied, and then again at
the reconsideration level. (Tr. 77, 91.) She requested an
evidentiary hearing, which Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
Kevin Martin conducted in December 2014. (Tr. 112-13, 39-65.)
ALJ Martin issued an unfavorable opinion in May 2015 and the
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review,
rendering the ALJ's decision the final agency decision.
(Tr. 17-38, 1-7.) Plaintiff exhausted all of her
administrative remedies and filed a timely complaint with
this Court. (Doc. 1.)
makes the following arguments:
1. The ALJ improperly weighed the medical opinions.
2. The ALJ's credibility determination was erroneous.
qualify for DIB and 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). 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, the Court must determine: (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) ([u]nder 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 only 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), and cases
Martin followed the five-step analytical framework set forth
above. He determined plaintiff met the insured status
requirements through March 31, 2015 and had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of
January 31, 2010. (Tr. 22.) The ALJ opined plaintiff had
severe impairments of degenerative disc disease (DDD) of the
lumbar spine status post fusion; obesity; carpal tunnel
syndrome; diabetes with neuropathy; status post right hand
fracture; status post left wrist fracture; status post rib
fractures; major depressive disorder; and pain disorder. (Tr.
23.) The ALJ then determined plaintiff had the RFC to perform
sedentary work, with several restrictions. (Tr. 24.) Although
plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work, she was
capable of performing other jobs that existed in the economy
and was, therefore, not disabled. (Tr. 31-32.)
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.
disability report, plaintiff indicated DDD of the lumbar
spine, spinal stenosis, a lumbar fusion with hardware, and
diabetes limited her ability to work. She weighed 226 pounds
and was five-foot, six-inches tall. (Tr. 213.)
worked as a caregiver in 1997, as a cashier from 1995 to
1996, and as a dispatcher from 1999 to 2010. (Tr. 215.) She
struggled with pain in her lower back for several years, and
the condition progressively worsened until she became unable
to work in January 2010. She tried several treatment options,
including physical therapy, injections, and a lumbar fusion
with hardware in 2006. She had difficulty walking, standing,
and sitting for significant periods. She also had difficulty
lifting, carrying, bending, twisting, turning, kneeling, and
squatting. Plaintiff struggled with falling and staying
asleep at night. Her concentration and focus were impaired
because of pain and fatigue. Plaintiff also had diabetes,
which she controlled with diet. (Tr. 220.)
completed a function report in December 2012. She stated in
the mornings, she prepared coffee, made sure her kids woke up
and got ready for school, watched television, and folded
laundry. In the afternoons, plaintiff prepared lunch and then
watched television, read, sewed, and crocheted. Plaintiff
took about an hour-long nap then socialized with her children
after they returned home from school. In the evening, she