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Longmire v. Berryhill

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

December 19, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          MARY M. ROWLAND, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Edward Longmire filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI the Social Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1381 et seq. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.


         To recover SSI, a claimant must establish that he or she is disabled within the meaning of the Act. York v. Massanari, 155 F.Supp.2d 973, 977 (N.D. Ill. 2001).[2] A


         Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits on August 1, 2011, alleging that he became disabled on January 1, 1997, due to affective disorders, mood disorders, and asthma. (R. at 49).[3] The application was denied initially on October 20, 2011, and upon reconsideration on April 6, 2012, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 49-50, 66). On July 12, 2013, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 29-48). The hearing was held by video with Plaintiff located at the Hill Correctional Institution and his attorney was present at the hearing. (Id. at 18). The ALJ also heard testimony from Aimee Mowery, a vocational expert (VE). (Id. at 29-48).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on August 6, 2013. (R. at 18-25). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since August 1, 2011, the application date. (Id. at 20). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's depression, asthma, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anti-social personality disorder were severe impairments. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any of the listings enumerated in the regulations. (Id.).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[4] and determined that Plaintiff could perform the full range of work at all exertional levels except Plaintiff was limited to “1, 2, and 3-step job tasks; no contact with the general public; no fast-paced production jobs; must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants; and no reading or writing requirements.” (R. at 21). At step four, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (Id. at 23). Based on Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined at step five that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including hand packager, sorter, and kitchen helper. (Id. at 24). The ALJ indicated that “[t]hese would be reduced by 50% due to no reading and writing. However, the [VE] testified that she has placed individuals who speak no English and cannot read or write in these positions.” (Id.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not under a disability, as defined by the Act. (Id. at 26- 27).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 26, 2016. (R. at 1-6). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).


         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is authorized by § 405(g) of the SSA. In reviewing this decision, the Court may not engage in its own analysis of whether the plaintiff is severely impaired as defined by the Social Security Regulations. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Nor may it “reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, decide questions of credibility, or, in general, substitute [its] own judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Id. The Court's task is “limited to determining whether the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence.” Id. (citing § 405(g)). Evidence is considered substantial “if a reasonable person would accept it as adequate to support a conclusion.” Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 473 (7th Cir. 2004); see Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1120-21 (7th Cir. 2014) (“We will uphold the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence, that is, such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”) (citation omitted). “Substantial evidence must be more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). “In addition to relying on substantial evidence, the ALJ must also explain his analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review.” Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005).

         Although this Court accords great deference to the ALJ's determination, it “must do more than merely rubber stamp the ALJ's decision.” Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). “This deferential standard of review is weighted in favor of upholding the ALJ's decision, but it does not mean that we scour the record for supportive evidence or rack our brains for reasons to uphold the ALJ's decision. Rather, the ALJ must identify the relevant evidence and build a ‘logical bridge' between that evidence and the ultimate determination.” Moon v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 718, 721 (7th Cir. 2014). Where the Commissioner's decision “lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, the case must be remanded.” Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).


         In support for his request for reversal, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ (1) failed to consider the line of evidence documenting Plaintiff's auditory hallucinations when formulating the RFC; (2) failed to properly assess Plaintiff's mental RFC; (3) mischaracterized the medical ...

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