United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT, DISTRICT JUDGE.
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Mark
Groeteka, represented by counsel, seeks judicial review of
the final agency decision denying his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
Groeteka applied for disability benefits in January 2014,
alleging disability as of May 31, 2013. After holding an
evidentiary hearing, ALJ Richard N. Staples denied the
application on May 3, 2016. (Tr. 11-19.) The Appeals Council
denied review, and the decision of the ALJ became the final
agency decision. (Tr. 1.) Administrative remedies have been
exhausted and a timely complaint was filed in this Court.
argues that the ALJ “cherry-picked” the evidence
and grossly understated the severity of the claimant's
degenerative disc disease.
qualify for benefits, a claimant must be
“disabled” pursuant to the Social Security Act.
The Act defines a “disability” as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). The physical or mental impairment must result
from a medically demonstrable abnormality. 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(3). Moreover, the impairment must prevent the
plaintiff from engaging in significant physical or mental
work activity done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. §
Security regulations require an ALJ to ask five questions
when determining whether a claimant is disabled. The first
three questions are simple: (1) whether the claimant is
presently unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has a physical
or mental impairment; and (3) whether that impairment meets
or is equivalent to one of the listed impairments that the
regulations acknowledge to be conclusively disabling. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); Weatherbee v. Astrue,
649 F.3d 565, 569 (7th Cir. 2011). If the answers to these
questions are “yes”, then the ALJ should find
that the claimant is disabled. Id.
times, an ALJ may find that the claimant is unemployed and
has a serious impairment, but the impairment is neither
listed in nor equivalent to the impairments in the
regulations-failing at step three. If this happens, then the
ALJ must ask a fourth question: (4) whether the claimant is
able to perform his or her previous work. Id. If the
claimant is not able to, then the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to answer a fifth and final question: (5)
whether the claimant is capable of performing any
work within the economy, in light of the claimant's age,
education, and work experience. If the claimant cannot, then
the ALJ should find the claimant to be disabled.
Id.; see also Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d
503, 512-13 (7th Cir. 2009); Zurawski v. Halter, 245
F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001).
claimant may appeal the final decision of the Social Security
Administration to this Court, but the scope of review here is
limited: while the Court must ensure that the ALJ did not
make any errors of law, the ALJ's findings of fact are
conclusive as long as they are supported by
“substantial evidence.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable person
would find sufficient to support a decision.
Weatherbee, 649 F.3d at 568 (citing Jens v.
Barnhart, 347 F.3d 209, 212 (7th Cir. 2003)). The Court
takes into account the entire administrative record when
reviewing for substantial evidence, but it does not reweigh
evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility,
or substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ.
Brewer v. Chater, 103 F.3d 1384, 1390 (7th Cir.
1997); Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1121 (7th
Cir. 2014). But even though this judicial review is limited,
the Court should not and does not act as a rubber stamp for
the Commissioner. Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920,
921 (7th Cir. 2010).
Decision of the ALJ
Staples followed the five-step analytical framework described
above. He determined that Mr. Groeteka had not worked at the
level of substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset
date and is insured for DIB through December 31, 2018. He
found that plaintiff had severe impairments of peripheral
vascular disease, antiphospholipid antibody syndrome with
deep vein thrombosis, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar
spine, idiopathic peripheral neuropathy, residual effects of
a right rotator cuff repair performed on March 7, 2014, and
mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform work at the light exertional level with some
physical limitations. Based on the testimony of a vocational
expert, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff could not do his
past work, but he was not disabled because he was able to do