Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Mailhot v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 21, 2017

STEPHANIE L. MAILHOT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [[2]]

          Sidney I. Schenkier, Magistrate Judge [1]

         Claimant Stephanie Mailhot ("Claimant" or "Ms. Mailhot") has filed a motion for summary judgment seeking reversal or remand of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her claims for Supplemental Security Income benefits ("SSI") benefits (doc. # 15: Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J.). The Commissioner has filed a motion seeking affirmation of the decision denying benefits (doc. # 20: Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J.), and Claimant has filed a reply (doc. # 22). For the following reasons, we remand the case.

         I.

         On July 6, 2010, Ms. Mailhot filed an application for SSI, alleging a disability beginning on September 1, 2009, with a date last insured of December 31, 2014 (R. 337-38, 423). After her claim was initially denied on January 13, 2011 and on reconsideration on March 18, 2011 (R. 107, 108), Ms. Mailhot participated in a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") (R. 71-106), who ruled that Ms. Mailhot was not disabled (R. 109-124). The Appeals Council then remanded the case to the ALJ for consideration of additional evidence related to Claimant's back pain and treatment (R. 125-29). The ALJ conducted a second hearing, at which Ms. Mailhot and a vocational expert ("VE") testified (R. 41-70). On April 23, 2015, the ALJ ruled that Ms. Mailhot was not disabled, and Ms. Mailhot filed a request for review (R. 7-9, 19-40). On September 4, 2016, the Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's determination, making the ALJ's determination the final opinion of the Commissioner (R. 1-3). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Varga v. Colvin, 794 F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 2015).

         We remand because the ALJ failed to adequately address the evidence concerning Ms. Mailhot's mental impairment, or to adequately support her determination that this impairment was non-severe. Because we remand on this ground, we do not reach the other challenges the Claimant raises to the ALJ's decision, and we focus our discussion of the record and the ALJ's decision on the mental health issue.

         I.

         While Ms. Mailhot did not list any mental health impairments in her initial application for benefits, she reported a history of depression at medical appointments related to her back pain in September 2009 and 2010 (R. 524, 528, 531). Records from those appointments show that Ms. Mailhot was taking an anti-depressant, Amitriptyline, prescribed by a doctor at the Yorkville clinic that Ms. Mailhot visited for treatment for her back pain (R. 533).

         In 2012, Ms. Mailhot underwent a private psychiatric evaluation prior to having a spinal cord stimulator implanted (R. 822-24). The examiner diagnosed Ms. Mailhot with generalized anxiety disorder and noted that her "Beck Depression Inventory" score placed her in the mild mood disturbance category (R. 822-23). At this examination, Ms. Mailhot reported that she had noticed problems with her short term memory and that her attention decreased when her pain worsened (R. 911). It is not apparent from the record if Ms. Mailhot was still taking an antidepressant at the time of this examination; the examiner's recommendations including a suggestion that Claimant would benefit from psychopfarmacological treatment of her anxiety (R. 913). Ms. Mailhot began taking Alproazolan (Xanax) for anxiety in April 2014 and was still taking it at the time of her 2015 hearing (R, 58, 488). At that hearing, Ms. Mailhot testified that she had experienced problems with anxiety for the previous two years and had been taking Xanax for about one year (R. 58).

         In her opinion, the ALJ analyzed Ms. Mailhot's claims using the traditional five-step sequential evaluation process for determining disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4); 416.920(a). The process requires the ALJ to consider: (1) whether the Claimant has engaged in any "substantial gainful activity" since the alleged disability onset date; (2) if her impairment or combination of impairments is severe; (3) whether her impairments meet or medically equal any impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations; (4) whether her residual functional capacity ("RFC") prevents her from performing past relevant work; and (5) if her RFC prevents him from performing any other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), (b)-(f); 416.920(a).

         As relevant for this decision, the ALJ found at Step Two that Ms. Mailhof s anxiety was not a severe impairment. The entirety of the ALJ"s evaluation of Ms. Mailhot's mental health was the comment that, "other than taking Xanax ... the record does not show either regular treatment or counseling, or regular complaints of anxiety. . . Therefore, this impairment is 'non-severe', with no more than mild deficits in the Part B criteria of the Listings" (R. 25). In establishing Ms. Mailhot's RFC, the ALJ found that Ms. Mailhot could perform sedentary work as long as she did not lift more than 15 pounds, and that she could sit for six hours in an eight hour workday with seated intervals of up to two hours. The ALJ also found that Ms. Mailhot could walk and/or stand for a total of two hours in an eight hour workday and was limited to occasional stooping and crouching and frequent crawling, climbing, stairs, kneeling, balancing, handling, and fingering (R. 26). The ALJ did not include any limitations in Ms. Mailhot's RFC related to her mental health condition.

         II.

         We will uphold the ALJ's determination if it is supported by substantial evidence, meaning "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Pepper v. Colvin, 712 F.3d 351, 361-62 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting McKinzey v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 884, 889 (7th Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted). We do not reweigh evidence or substitute our own judgment for that of the ALJ. Shideler v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 306, 310 (7th Cir. 2012). In rendering a decision, the ALJ "must build a logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion, but he need not provide a complete written evaluation of every piece of testimony and evidence." Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005).

         When a claimant alleges mental health issues, the ALJ must use the so-called "special technique" to evaluate whether the claimant has a medically determinable mental health impairment, and whether that impairment causes functional limitations. The first part of the special technique involves having the ALJ look at the claimant's "symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings" to determine whether a mental health impairment exists. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a; Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 674-75 (7th Cir.2008). If the ALJ determines that the claimant has a medically determinable mental health impairment, the ALJ must next undertake a "Part B" analysis, which rates the degree of the functional limitation resulting from the claimant's impairment with respect to four broad functional areas: activities of daily living; social functioning; concentration, persistence, or pace; and episodes of decompensation, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a(c)(3). For the first three categories, the ALJ must rate the claimant's limitations as none, mild, moderate, marked, or extreme. Id. § 404.1520a(c)(4). If there are no episodes of decompensation and the rating in each of the first three categories is none or mild, the impairment generally is not considered severe and the claimant thus is not disabled. Id. § 404.1520a(d)(1).

         As an initial matter, it is undisputed that the ALJ did not use the special technique to evaluate Ms. Mailhot's mental health condition or its effects on her ability to function. Instead, the ALJ merely acknowledged Ms. Mailhot's mental health complaints but then dismissed them as non-severe because the record did not show regular treatment or counseling (other than Ms. Mailhot's use of Xanax). While the ALJ used the term "Part B ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.