United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
STACY A. GUNTER 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 Stacy A.
Gunter seeks judicial review of the final agency decision
denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 423.
applied for DIB and SSI in September 2013 alleging an onset
date of May 31, 2013. (Tr. 226-35.) Her application was
denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 109-32,
135-60.) Plaintiff requested a hearing, which Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) Kevin Martin conducted in October 2015. (Tr.
7-11, 33-59.) ALJ Martin issued an unfavorable decision in
November 2015. (Tr. 12-32.) The Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's
decision the final agency decision. (Tr. 1-6.) Plaintiff
exhausted all of her administrative remedies and filed a
timely complaint with this Court.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following points:
ALJ erroneously found plaintiff did not meet listing
ALJ improperly evaluated the opinion evidence.
qualify for SSI or DIB, 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).
“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: “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
Martin followed the five-step analytical framework set forth
above. He determined plaintiff met the insured status
requirements through March 31, 2018, and had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since May 31, 2013. The ALJ
found plaintiff had severe impairments of schizoaffective
disorder bipolar type, personality disorder, and borderline
intellectual functioning. He further determined plaintiff did
not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met
or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment.
(Tr. 17-19.) ALJ Martin opined plaintiff had the RFC to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but had
several non-exertional limitations. (Tr. 20-24.) Plaintiff
was unable to perform past relevant work but was not disabled
because she could perform other jobs that existed in the
national economy. (Tr. 25-26.)
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 that schizophrenia,
generalized anxiety disorder, borderline personality
disorder, headaches, depression, severe allergies, and
blackout spells limited her ability to work. (Tr. 247.) She
completed two years of college in 1997 and did not attend
special education classes. (Tr. 248.) Plaintiff previously
worked as a CNA and in-home health care. (Tr. 248.) In a
subsequent disability report, plaintiff alleged her
depression was worsening. (Tr. 286.)
function report, plaintiff stated she experienced anxiety
attacks, crying spells, and blackouts when she tried to work.
(Tr. 265.) She had double vision and problems with
concentration and memory. She found it difficult to
understand directions but became too upset to ask for help.
got along with authority figures but they scared her. She was
fired several times because she became upset at other people
and cried. She handled stress very poorly. She had fears of
her mom and dad dying and having to live alone. (Tr. 271.)
fed her two dogs and cat but needed a reminder to do so.
Plaintiff's mother helped pick out her clothes and combed
her hair. Plaintiff was otherwise able to dress, bathe, care
for her hair, shave, feed herself, and use the toilet without
assistance. (Tr. 266.) Plaintiff's mother helped with her
medication regimen. (Tr. 267.) Plaintiff did not prepare her
own meals because she would forget to turn the stove off. She
did some household chores such as drying dishes, dusting,
making her bed, and picking up her room. (Tr. 267.)
Plaintiff's doctor took her driver's license because
she had blackouts and seizures. Plaintiff shopped for food
and clothes with her mother. Plaintiff's mother helped
plaintiff maintain her checkbook and pay her bills. (Tr.
mother completed a third-party function report in November
2013. She stated plaintiff became extremely anxious when she
worked and blacked out. Plaintiff required reminders and
followed her mother around at home. At work, plaintiff
“walk[e]d around like she [was] spaced out.” (Tr.
257.) Overall, plaintiff's mother corroborated
plaintiff's function report.
Martin conducted an evidentiary hearing on October 1, 2015,
at which plaintiff was represented by counsel. (Tr. 33-59.)
Plaintiff's counsel requested a neuro-psych with IQ
testing. The ALJ stated he would take the request under
advisement. (Tr. 37-38.)
testified she lived with her mother and father. She had a
driver's license but her psychiatrist, Dr. Chandra,
advised plaintiff not to drive due to her medications. (Tr.
40.) Plaintiff received a two-year Associate of Arts degree,
which took her four years to complete. She failed two classes
and required several tutors for each class. (Tr. 41, 48-49.)
Plaintiff called her parents to pick her up from school once
a week because she was scared and wanted to go home. (Tr.
49.) Plaintiff also obtained her CNA license. (Tr. 41.)
Plaintiff had not worked or sought employment since May 2013.
She last worked as a housekeeper but quit because people were
complaining about the way she cleaned. (Tr. 42.)
stated schizophrenia and anxiety attacks limited her ability
to work. She had schizophrenia since grade school and
experienced anxiety attacks since 2001. Every day plaintiff
worked, she became anxious, her heart started pounding, and
she cried. She took Paxil, Clonazepam, and Trazadone to
control these symptoms. Her medications were effective. (Tr.
43-44.) Plaintiff attended group therapy at ...