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Morton v. Berryhill

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

January 2, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.



         Plaintiff Michael Shawn Kenneth Morton filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for continuation of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g); 42 U.S.C. § 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 Plaintiff has filed a request to reverse the ALJ's decision and remand for an award of benefits or in the alternative, for additional proceedings. For the reasons stated below, the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.


         Plaintiff previously received SSI based on disability as a child. After Plaintiff attained age 18, it was determined that he was no longer disabled as of March 1, 2011. (R. at 57, 64). His application was denied on reconsideration on March 4, 2014. (Id. at 64, 111). Plaintiff, unrepresented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on March 6, 2015, in Chicago, Illinois. (Id. at 64, 8-56). Plaintiff's grandmother also appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.). The ALJ also heard testimony from Grace Gianforte, a vocational expert (VE). (Id.). Following the hearing, additional records were entered into the administrative record. (Id. at 64, see Ex. 15E, 23E, 16F, 18F).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on July 31, 2015. (R. at 64-78). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process[1], at step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: asthma, borderline intellectual functioning, learning disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, adjustment disorder vs bipolar disorder, and antisocial personality traits. (Id. at 66). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of any of the listings enumerated in the regulations. (R. at 67- 70). The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC)[2] and determined that, since March 1, 2011, Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations:

the claimant should never work in environments with exposure to concentrated pulmonary irritants such as dusts, fumes, odors and gases. The claimant can perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks that can be learned on short demonstration. He is unable to perform work requiring math computation or abilities. He is able to follow simple instructions but cannot plan work independently. The claimant can have no more than occasional contact with supervisors, coworkers and the general public and cannot work on joint tasks with coworkers. The claimant cannot perform fast production pace work and can only perform goal oriented work. (R. at 70).

         The ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (Id. at 76). Based on Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, work experience, 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. (Id. at 77). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's disability ended on March 1, 2011 and that Plaintiff has not become disabled again since that date. (Id. at 78).

         On October 5, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 1-4). 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 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act. 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 42 U.S.C. § 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) (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). The Court must critically review the ALJ's decision to ensure that the ALJ has built an “accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion.” Young, 362 F.3d at 1002. 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).


         Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's decision, arguing that: (1) the ALJ did not properly assess Plaintiff's mental impairments with respect to Listing 12.05C; (2) the ALJ's determination of Plaintiff's mental RFC was not supported by substantial evidence; (3) the ALJ ignored favorable VE testimony; and (4) the ALJ erred in failing to properly assess Plaintiff's subjective complaints. (Dkt. 19). After reviewing the record and the parties' briefs, the Court is convinced by the second and third arguments and determines that remand is warranted.[3]

         A. ...

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