United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey Cole Magistrate Judge.
four years ago, in April 2014, Gwendolyn Sanders filed
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”), Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”), and Disabled Widow's Benefits under
Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act
(“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§416(i), 423,
1382c(3)(A). (Administrative Record (R.) 301-310, 313-316).
She claimed she was unable to work due to a host of problems:
Addison's disease, moderate depression, hypothyroidism,
pan-hypopituitarism, hepatitis C, migraine headaches, high
blood pressure, and anxiety. (R. 339). Her applications made
their way through the administrative process over the course
of a little over three years, with her claim for benefits
being denied at the initial and reconsideration levels, by an
administrative law judge, and, finally, at the appeals
council level on June 19, 2017. (R. 1-4). Ms. Sanders filed
suit under 42 U.S.C. §405(g) seeking review of the
denial of her claims for benefits, and it is the ALJ's
decision that is before the court for review. See 20 C.F.R.
Sanders had previously worked for over 30 years as a
maintenance administrator for the telephone company. (R.
340). That job required her to work on a computer, monitor
technicians, and handle phone calls. She spent most of her
day sitting, but did have to walk around a large office for 1
or 2 hours each day. (R. 340-341, 348). She never had to lift
more than 10 pounds. (R. 341, 348).
2009, Ms. Sanders was fired for tardiness. (R. 48). At her
administrative hearing, she explained that, at that time,
supervisors had changed quite a bit and no one knew her or
knew her history. (R. 48). Her sister had recently died, she
said, and she was under stress. (R. 49). The location of her
office changed and it took her longer to get to work - at
least an hour and a half every day. (R. 49, 57-58). Morever,
driving to the new location, she would have to stop on the
way and be sick to her stomach or go to the bathroom. (R.
49). Ms. Sanders explained that this was due to an issue with
her pituitary gland that she had dealt with since 1980, but
that had been exacerbated by the stress of her troubles at
work and her sister's death. (R. 50). The condition was
diagnosed as panhypopituitarism. (R. 876). The condition
didn't affect her while she was at her desk, however; it
was the motion of the car that upset her stomach. (R. 62-63).
Sanders said she didn't look for another job with an
easier commute because her skillset was unique to the phone
company, and she had put in a lot of time with the company
and wanted to retire with them. (R. 53). But with her health
issues, she could not get to work on time at the new
facility, even if she left early. (R. 55).
the hearing, the ALJ reviewed the voluminous medical record -
nearly 700 pages, which the ALJ spent 12 single-spaced pages
summarizing - and determined that Ms. Sanders was not
disabled. The ALJ did find that she had several severe
impairments: adrenal gland disorders with thyroid and
pituitary disorders, hepatitis C, and left knee dysfunction.
(R. 13). Ms. Sanders had a number of other impairments that
the ALJ felt were not severe: migraines, low back pain,
degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, acute renal
failure, hypertension, obesity, and depression/anxiety
disorder. (R. 14-15). The ALJ found that Ms. Sanders'
mental impairments left her with mild restrictions on
activitities of daily living and concentration, persistence
and pace, but no limitations on social functioning. (R. 16).
waded through the several medical opinions in the record and
didn't think much of them. He gave partial weight to the
state DDS doctors' opinion that Ms. Sanders had no severe
mental impairment, and little weight to their opinion that
she had no medically determinable mental impairment. (R. 18).
He gave some weight to the opinion of consultative examiner
Dr. Gregory Rudolph that Ms. Sanders' prognosis was
limited because it was vague. (R. 19). He gave little weight
to the opinion of examining psychologist Dr. Karina Bortnik
that Ms. Sanders was disabled because it was vague and
disability is a matter reserved to the Commissioner. (R. 19).
The opinion of Dr. Kang-Yann Lin was assigned only partial
weight because portions were not consistent with the record.
(R. 20). Finally, the ALJ gave limited weight to the opinion
of treating psychiatrist Dr. Timothy T'so because it was
too remote in time. (R. 20).
went on to find that Ms. Sanders could perform sedentary work
except, lifting/carrying 10 pounds occasionally and less than
10 pounds frequently; sitting for 6 hours out of 8 hours;
standing for 2 hours out of 8 hours; walking for 2 hours out
of 8 hours; pushing and pulling as much as the individual can
lift/carry; never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds;
occasionally balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, or
crawling; never being exposed to unprotected heights or
moving mechanical parts; and never operating a motor vehicle.
(R. 22). He found that Ms. Sanders' allegation regarding
the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her
impairments were not entirely consistent with the medical
record. (R. 23). Given Ms Sanders' capacity for a limited
range of sedentary work, the ALJ relied on the testimony of
the vocational expert to determine that Ms. Sanders could
perform her past sedentary, semi-skilled work as a
maintenance administrator. (R. 26). Accordingly, the ALJ
concluded that Ms. Sanders was not disabled and not entitled
to benefits. (R. 26-27).
ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the
court on judicial review must uphold that decision even if
the court might have decided the case differently in the
first instance. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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);
Beardsley v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 834, 836 (7th Cir.
2014). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, the
court reviews the record as a whole but does not attempt to
substitute its judgment for the ALJ's by reweighing the
evidence, resolving material conflicts, or reconsidering
facts or the credibility of witnesses. Beardsley,
758 F.3d at 837. “Where conflicting evidence allows
reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is
entitled to benefits, ” the court must defer to the
Commissioner's resolution of that conflict. Binion v.
Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir.1997). See also
Schloesser v. Berryhill, 870 F.3d 712, 717 (7th Cir.
the Seventh Circuit, the ALJ also has an obligation to build
an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and the
result to afford the claimant meaningful judicial review of
the administrative findings. Varga v. Colvin, 794
F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 2015); O'Connor-Spinner v.
Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir.2010); we cannot
uphold a decision by an administrative agency, any more than
we can uphold Lomax v. Astrue, 2010 WL 337654, at *7
(N.D. Ill. 2010(discussing the meaning and origin of the
phrase). The court has to be able to trace the path of the
ALJ's reasoning from evidence to conclusion. Minnick
v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 938 (7th Cir. 2015);
Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 812 (7th Cir.
2011). Even if the court agrees with the ultimate result, the
case must be remanded if the ALJ fails in his or her
obligation to build that logical bridge. Sarchet v.
Chater, 78 F.3d 305, 307 (7th Cir. 1996)(“. . . we
cannot uphold a decision by an administrative agency, any
more than we can uphold a decision by a district court, if,
while there is enough evidence in the record to support the
decision, the reasons given by the trier of fact do not build
an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and the
result.”). See also discussion in Lomax v.
Astrue, 2010 WL 337654, at *7.
already noted, the record in this case is, like most Social
Security disability cases, massive and will only be discussed
insofar as it pertains to various points that need to be made
about the ALJ's decision. Indeed, the parties point to
barely a dozen pages of the 650 pages of medical evidence as
pertinent to their positions. [ Dkt. # 17, at 10-18; Dkt.
#18, at 3-6]. Suffice it to say that Ms. Sanders suffers from
a constellation of medical and psychological problems. But,
the main issue with the ALJ's decision is that the ALJ
failed to adequately account for the severity of her mental
limitations and consider ...