United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Urbana Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
I. LONG UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Joseph Sommers Hammerslough seeks review under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) of the Social Security Administration's
denial of his application for disability insurance benefits.
The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. For the
reasons explained below, the Court recommends that
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment
(#12) be DENIED,
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
(#16) be GRANTED, and the
decision to deny benefits be affirmed.
April 26, 2013, Plaintiff applied for a period of disability
and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability
beginning May 11, 2010. The Social Security Administration
initially denied Plaintiff's claims on July 25, 2013, and
again upon reconsideration on January 29, 2014. On March 10,
2015, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a video hearing
before the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The
ALJ considered evidence provided by Plaintiff's treating
and consulting physicians. The ALJ also heard testimony from
Bob Hammons, an impartial Vocation Expert (“VE”)
and Vera Hammerslough, Plaintiff's mother.
21, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision stating that
Plaintiff is not disabled under section 216(i), 223(d), and
1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. (R. 34.) The ALJ
found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since May 11, 2010 (R. 21.) and that Plaintiff has
the severe impairments of dermoid brain tumor, remote history
of seizure-like episodes, atrial fibrillation, obstructive
sleep apnea, obesity, history of superficial vein thrombosis,
congenital right sided ptosis, and extraocular movement
disorder. (20 CFR 404.1520(c)). (R. 22.) The ALJ determined
that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526). (R.
22.) Additionally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
[P]erform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a) with the following non-exertional limitations. He
can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can climb
ramps and/or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and/or
crawl no more than occasionally. He must avoid even moderate
exposure to hazards, like unprotected heights or dangerous
machinery. Any work should not require good peripheral vision
on the right.
(R. 23-4.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform any
past relevant work but that Plaintiff could make a successful
adjustment to several other jobs in the national economy
based on the VE's testimony; Plaintiff's age,
education, and work experience; and the RFC. (R. 33.) The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
making the ALJ's ruling the Commissioner's final
Standard of Review
reviewing the ALJ's decision, this Court does not review
the case de novo or replace the ALJ's findings
with the Court's own assessment of the evidence. Pugh
v. Bowen, 870 F.2d 1271, 1274 (7th Cir. 1989). Instead,
the Court must affirm the decision to deny benefits if the
ALJ correctly applied the law and supported the decision with
substantial evidence. Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d
805, 811 (7th Cir. 2011). The Supreme Court has defined
substantial evidence as “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971). Stated differently, if reasonable minds
could differ as to whether Plaintiff is disabled, the Court
must uphold the ALJ's decision to deny benefits.
Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 978 (7th Cir. 1996).
Importantly, for the Court to evaluate the ALJ's
analysis, the ALJ must build a “logical bridge from the
evidence to his conclusion.” See Clifford v.
Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).
argues that the ALJ's decision denying his request should
be reversed for three reasons. First, Plaintiff contends that
the ALJ's RFC assessment failed to meet the requirements
of SSR 96-8p. Second, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred
for failing to consider Plaintiff's impairments in
combination. Third, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ was
incorrect in finding that Plaintiff's alleged symptoms
were inconsistent with the established record.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's RFC assessment failed
to meet the requirements of SSR 96-8p. “The RFC is the
maximum that a claimant can still do despite his mental and
physical limitations.” Craft v. Astrue, 539
F.3d 668, 675-76 (7th Cir. 2008). “When determining the
RFC, the ALJ must consider all medically determinable
impairments, physical and mental, even those that are not
considered ‘severe.'” Id. SSR 96-8p
also requires that an ALJ's RFC “include a
narrative discussion describing how the evidence supports
each conclusion, citing specific medical facts (e.g.,
laboratory findings) and nonmedical evidence (e.g., daily
activities, observations).” Plaintiff alleges that the
ALJ failed to meet these requirements by merely arriving at
conclusions without providing any evidence or narrative.
support of this argument, Plaintiff highlights the medical
evidence of two state agency doctors. First, on July 18,
2013, Dr. Gotanko stated that Plaintiff could occasionally
lift 50 pounds and frequently lift 25 pounds, and that
Plaintiff could stand, walk, or sit for up to six hours of an
eight-hour-day. (R. 102-05.) Dr. ...