United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MICHAEL W. PATTERSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Michael W.
Patterson seeks judicial review of the final agency decision
denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) benefits
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
applied for benefits in March 2014. He first alleged that he
became disabled as of May 28, 2010. He later amended his
onset date to November 5, 2013: the day after his prior
application was denied. After holding an evidentiary hearing,
ALJ Stuart T. Janney denied the application on December 31,
2015. (Tr. 19-31.) The Appeals Council denied review, and the
decision of the ALJ became the final agency decision. (Tr.
1.) The plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies
and filed a timely complaint in this Court.
counsel, plaintiff makes the following arguments:
1. The physical and mental RFC assessments were not supported
by substantial evidence.
2. The ALJ failed to properly consider the VE's testimony
about how his frequent healthcare appointments would affect
his ability to work.
3. The credibility assessment was erroneous.
purposes of DIB, “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 Commissioner 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).
Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to ensure that
the Commissioner made no mistakes of law and that decision is
supported by substantial evidence. This 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 at the relevant time, but
only whether the ALJ's findings were supported by
substantial evidence and that the ALJ made no mistakes 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 cited therein.
Decision of the ALJ
Janney followed the five-step analytical framework described
above. He determined that Mr. Patterson was insured for DIB
through December 31, 2014, and that he had not engaged in
substantial gainful employment since the alleged date of
disability. He found that plaintiff had severe
impairments of degenerative disc disease; left hip bursitis
and pelvic osteopenia; cataract and corneal scarring
secondary to a burn injury; exposure to anhydrous ammonia
fumes with burns; asthma; seizure and hypomagnesemia;
depression disorder NOS; anxiety disorder; and posttraumatic
stress disorder. These impairments did not meet or equal a
found that plaintiff had the RFC to perform work at the
medium exertional level with a number of physical and mental
limitations. Based on the testimony of a VE, the ALJ found
that plaintiff was not able to do his past relevant work. He
was, however, not disabled because he was able to do other