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Tincher v. Berryhill

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

January 18, 2018

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


          Jeffrey T. Gilbert Magistrate Judge

         Claimant Anthony Tincher ("Claimant") seeks review of the final decision of Respondent Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"), denying Claimant's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Rule 73.1, the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United Magistrate Judge for all proceedings, including entry of final judgment. [ECF No. 7.]

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, Claimant and the Commissioner filed cross-motions for summary judgment. [ECF No. 19; ECF No. 27.] For the reasons stated below, Claimant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 19] is granted, and the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 27] is denied.


         On March 31, 2010, Claimant filed applications for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of February 1, 2008 with a last insured date of December 31, 2009. (R. 169-79.) After an initial denial and a denial on reconsideration (R. 91, 94, 102), Claimant filed a request for an administrative hearing, (R. 108-10). After a hearing on April 16, 2012, at which Claimant appeared without representation, an Administrative Law Judge ("the first ALJ") denied Claimant's applications in a written decision issued on July 23, 2012. (R. 24-40, 44-8.) Claimant's subsequent request for review was denied by the Appeals Council. (R. 604.)

         Claimant then filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on November 21, 2013 challenging the Commissioner's decision. (R. 548-56.) On July 14, 2015, another judge of this court reversed the Commissioner's decision and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. Tincher v. Colvin, 2015 WL 4253632, at *8 (N.D. Ill. July 14, 2015). The court identified multiple bases for remand. The first ALJ did not consider what effect Claimant's severe mental impairments had on his ability to take medication regularly or to seek out free mental health care. Id. at *3-4. The first ALJ also did not build a logical bridge between the record and Claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). Id. at *6. Specifically, the first ALJ did not adequately assess the medical opinions of Dr. David Voss, Dr. John Tomassetti, and Dr. Alan Jacobs. Id. at *6-7. Finally, the first ALJ improperly rejected Claimant's testimony that he needed to lie down for up to three hours every day based solely on the absence of objective evidence. Id. at *8.

         On remand, a different ALJ ("the ALJ") held a hearing at which Claimant, this time represented by counsel, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. (R. 507-47.) In an opinion issued on April 26, 2016, the ALJ denied Claimant's applications for benefits based on a finding that Claimant was not disabled under the Act. (R. 480-81, 499). In her decision, the ALJ listed 13 directions from the district court's remand decision and then proceeded with the five-step sequential evaluation process required by Social Security Regulations. (R. 479-82.) At step one, the ALJ found Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date. (R. 482.)[2] At step two, the ALJ found Claimant had the severe impairments of a generalized anxiety disorder, a panic disorder without agoraphobia, a bipolar disorder, and a substance abuse disorder (alcohol). (R. 483). At step three, the ALJ found Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926). (R. 488).

         Prior to step four, the ALJ found Claimant had the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but imposed several non-exertional limitations. (R. 491.) Lhe ALJ found Claimant could understand and remember short, simple instructions; complete simple, routine, repetitive tasks; maintain attention, concentration, and persistence necessary to carry out simple work tasks at a consistent pace; adapt to work situations and changes that occur in a usual workplace with reasonable support and structure; and make simple work-related decisions. (Id.) The ALJ also found Claimant's contact with coworkers and the public should be minimized, which she defined as permitting no public contact and only occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors. (Id.) Finally, the ALJ found Claimant could independently sustain work routine without need for close supervision. (Id.) Based on this RFC, the ALJ found, at step four, that Claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work. (R. 497.) At step five, the ALJ considered whether Claimant could do any other work given her RFC, age, education, and work experience. (R. 498.) Based on these factors, the ALJ determined that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy Claimant could perform, specifically cleaner II (DOT # 919.687-014), store laborer (DOT # 922.687-058), and hand packer (DOT # 920.587-018). (Id.)

         Claimant did not file exceptions with the Appeals Council and the Appeals Council did not take jurisdiction, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.984. Claimant now seeks review in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Haynes v. Baumhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005).


         A decision by an ALJ becomes the Commissioner's final decision if the Appeals Council denies a request for review. Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000). Under such circumstances, the district court reviews the decision of the ALJ. Id. Judicial review is limited to determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards in reaching her decision. Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). A "mere scintilla" of evidence is not enough. Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002). Even when there is adequate evidence in the record to support the decision, however, the findings will not be upheld if the ALJ does not "build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to the conclusion." Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008). If the Commissioner's decision lacks evidentiary support or adequate discussion of the issues, it cannot stand. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir. 2009).

         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). Though the standard of review is deferential, a reviewing court must "conduct a critical review of the evidence" before affirming the Commissioner's decision. Eichstadt v. Astrue,534 F.3d 663, 665 (7th Cir. 2008). It may not, however, "displace the ALJ's judgment by reconsidering facts or evidence." Elder v. Astrue,529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). Thus, judicial review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings. Nelms, 553 F.3d at 1097. The reviewing court may enter a ...

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