United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
DEBORAH A. BROOKS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT, DISTRICT JUDGE.
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Deborah A.
Brooks seeks judicial review of the final agency decision
denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
filed for DIB on June 21, 2013, alleging a disability onset
date of September 25, 2011. (Tr. 135-41.) The application was
denied initially and again on reconsideration. (Tr. 63-83.)
Plaintiff requested an evidentiary hearing, which
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Gwen Anderson conducted on
February 11, 2016. (Tr. 27-62.) ALJ Anderson issued an
unfavorable decision thereafter. (Tr. 11-26.) The Appeals
Council denied plaintiff's request for review and the
ALJ's decision became the final agency decision. (Tr.
1-4.) Plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies and
filed a timely Complaint in this Court. (Doc. 1.)
argues the ALJ erroneously evaluated the medical opinions in
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).
Anderson determined plaintiff met the insured requirements
through March 31, 2018 and had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since December 14, 2012, the alleged onset
date. The ALJ opined plaintiff had severe impairments of
disorders of the muscle, ligament and fascia, osteoarthrosis
and allied disorder, and disorder of the back. (Tr. 16.)
Anderson found plaintiff had the RFC to perform a full range
of light work, except she could not climb ladders, ramps, or
scaffolds, kneel, crouch, crawl, or squat more than
occasionally. Additionally, plaintiff could never work around
unprotected heights and could only balance on level surfaces.
concluded that although plaintiff could not perform any past
relevant work, she was not disabled because jobs existed in
the national economy that she could perform. (Tr. 21.)
Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary
record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The
following summary of the record is directed to the
agency forms, plaintiff indicated that back pain and
arthritis in her knees limited her ability to work. Plaintiff
had a twelfth-grade education. For the previous fifteen
years, plaintiff cleaned hotels and offices, assisted the
elderly, and worked in sales. (Tr. 178-79, 206.)
experienced back pain if she stood for over an hour, and she
could not walk one block without shortness of breath.
Throughout an average day, plaintiff remained in bed and got
up to look for work. She tried to clean her house but could
not make her bed because the mattress was too heavy to lift.
Back pain also interfered with sleeping. Plaintiff could
prepare simple meals but her husband or sister did most of
the cooking. She found it difficult to bend, twist, and move
around. Plaintiff could put clothing into the laundry machine
and fold them while sitting down. She cleaned the restroom,
washed dishes, and vacuumed. Her sister helped her clean.
Plaintiff could grocery shop for about thirty minutes by
helping her husband put food in the cart. (Tr. 195-98,
was unable to hold her grandchildren because they were too
heavy. Her hobbies included watching television and playing
card games. She also went to church on Wednesdays and
Sundays. (Tr. 199-202, 216-19.)
The Evidentiary Hearing
Anderson presided over an evidentiary hearing in February
2016, at which plaintiff was ...