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Dejohnette v. Berryhill

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

January 22, 2018

ROBERT DEJOHNETTE III, Claimant,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JEFFREY T. GILBERT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Claimant Robert Dejohnette III ("Claimant") seeks review of the final decision of Respondent Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying Claimant's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Rule 73.1, the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings, including entry of final judgment. [ECF No. 9.] This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c) and 405(g).

         The parties have filed opposing briefs in support of and in opposition to the Commissioner's decision [ECF Nos. 18, 19], which the Court will construe as cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons stated below, Claimant's motion [ECF No. 18] is granted, and the Commissioner's motion [ECF No. 19] is denied. This matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On January 7, 2010, Claimant filed his claim for DIB alleging the onset of his disability was October 15, 2008. (R. 126-34.) The claim was denied initially on April 22, 2010, and upon reconsideration on July 7, 2010. (R. 72-75; 78-81.) Claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Represented by counsel, Claimant appeared and testified at a hearing before an ALJ on September 22, 2011. (R. 40-69.) A vocational expert also testified at the hearing. (Id.)

         On October 18, 2011, the ALJ issued his opinion denying Claimant benefits based on a finding that he was not disabled under the Act. (R. 36.) The opinion followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required by Social Security Regulations ("SSR"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ determined Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date of his alleged onset of disability. (R. 29.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Claimant was suffering from the following severe impairments: obesity, status post-multiple fractures secondary to a motor vehicle accident, residual right foot drop and other symptoms. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Claimant did not meet or equal the severity of any listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.) After step three but before step four, the ALJ determined Claimant had the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work and a restricted range of light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), provided the work allows use of an assistive devise and does not require balancing, crouching, or climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, using the right lower extremity to push, pull, or operate foot controls, more than occasional stooping, kneeling, crawling, or climbing of ramps or stairs, and allows Claimant to avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold an hazards (e.g. machinery, heights, etc.). (R. 31.) At step four, the ALJ determined Claimant could not perform any past relevant work. (R. 34.) At step five, the ALJ determined that jobs existed in significant numbers in the economy that Claimant could perform, including a service dispatcher, a telephone information clerk, or an order clerk. (R. 34-35.) The ALJ concluded that Claimant was not disabled from October 15, 2008, until the date of his decision on October 18, 2011. (R. 36.)

         The Social Security Administration Appeals Council then denied Claimant's request for review, leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Claimant appealed to the district court. (R. 426.) Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez, presiding by consent, issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order on December 23, 2015, remanding the case and finding that the ALJ had erred in assessing Claimant's RFC by not explicitly addressing Claimant's pertinent physical limitations, specifically his postural requirements for a sit/stand option, in a way that allowed for effective review. (R. 440-41.) See 2105 WL 9315536 (N.D. Ill.Dec. 23, 2015).

         On remand, Claimant again was represented by counsel. He appeared and testified at a second hearing before another ALJ on June 23, 2016. (R. 292-333.) A medical expert and a vocational expert also testified at Claimant's second hearing. (R. 292.)

         On August 22, 2016, the ALJ then presiding over the case again denied Claimant's application for DIB. (R. 351.) This opinion also followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required by the SSRs. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ determined that the Claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of October 15, 2008, through his date last insured which was December 31, 2013. (R. 340.) At step two, the ALJ determined that the Claimant suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, right foot-drop secondary to right peroneal nerve damage, right knee fracture, right ankle fracture, migraine headaches, and obesity. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined the 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. (R. 340-41.) Between step three and four, the ALJ determined Claimant had the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) with additional modifications and non-exertional limitations; occasionally lift a maximum of twenty pounds, frequently lift and/or carry less than ten pounds, walk and/or stand for about two hours total out of an eight hour workday, sit for about six hours out of an eight hour workday, and occasionally push and/or pull to include operation of foot controls with the bilateral lower extremities as restricted by the limitations on lifting and/or carrying, and push and/or pull to include operation of hand controls with bilateral upper extremities as restricted by the limitations on lifting and/or carrying subject to postural limitations of never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, occasionally climbing ramps or stairs, no balancing on right leg, occasionally balancing on left leg, and occasionally stooping, crouching, kneeling, or crawling, and manipulative limitations of occasionally reaching overhead with bilateral upper extremities and environmental limitations of avoiding all exposure to unprotected heights and work hazards, no commercial driving, and avoiding concentrated exposure vibrations. (R. 344.) At step four, the ALJ determined Claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work. (R. 349.) Finally, the ALJ determined that through Claimant's date last insured, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Claimant could have performed, including assembler, inspector, surveillance system monitor and bonder, and if the assessed RFC were modified to a sedentary exertion level, then there still were jobs available. (Id.) For these reasons, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled from October 15, 2008, through December 13, 2013, which was Claimant's date last insured. (R. 351.)

         Claimant did not file exceptions with the Appeals Council, and the Appeals Council did not assume jurisdiction over the case, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 404.984; Spraggins v. Berryhhhill, 2017 WL 4169749 (N.D. Ill. 2017).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A district court will reverse the findings of the Commissioner only if they are not supported by substantial evidence or if they are the result of an error of law. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Lopez ex. rel Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 42 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, 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). In other words, 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).

         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).

         III. ...


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