United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
ELIZABETH W. COLGAN 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 Elizabeth
W. Colgan seeks judicial review of the final agency decision
denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 423.
applied for DIB on September 1, 2011, alleging a disability
onset date of June 1, 2005. (Tr. 156-60.) The agency denied
her application at the initial level and again upon
reconsideration. (Tr. 90-92.) Plaintiff requested an
evidentiary hearing, which Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
Karen Sayon conducted in October 2013. (Tr. 41-89.) ALJ Sayon
issued an unfavorable decision thereafter. (Tr. 14-40.) The
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review,
and the ALJ's decision became the final agency decision.
(Tr. 1-7.) Plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies
and filed a timely Complaint in this Court in March 2015.
(Tr. 1222-32.) The Court reversed the Commissioner's
decision denying plaintiff's application for benefits and
remanded the application to the Commissioner for rehearing
and reconsideration of the evidence. (Tr. 1276-1307.)
plaintiff's appeal was pending before this Court, she
filed a subsequent application for DIB dated June 18, 2015,
along with an application for SSI dated October 27, 2015. The
agency denied these applications at the initial level and
again upon reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing.
The Appeals Council found the subsequent claims duplicate and
ordered the ALJ to consolidate all of plaintiff's claims
for remand. (Tr. 1310.)
January 2017, pursuant to an order from this Court, ALJ
Michael Scurry conducted an evidentiary hearing. (Tr.
1139-87.) ALJ Scurry issued a partially favorable decision in
February 2017; he found plaintiff became disabled on June 6,
2016. (Tr. 1100-38.) Plaintiff did not seek review with the
Appeals Council and the Appeals Council did not take
jurisdiction. The ALJ's decision therefore became the
final agency decision. Plaintiff filed a timely Complaint in
this Court. (Doc. 1).
Raised by Plaintiff
argues the ALJ erred in weighing the medical opinions in the
record; erroneously evaluated plaintiff's subjective
complaints; and improperly based his decision on unreliable
vocational expert (VE) testimony.
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 severe
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
times, an ALJ may find that the claimant is unemployed and
has a serious impairment, but that 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).
Scurry found plaintiff met the insured status requirements
through June 30, 2014, and had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date of June 1,
2005. (Tr. 1107-08.) Plaintiff had severe impairments of
fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and
cervical spine, depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive
disorder. (Tr. 1108.)
to June 6, 2016, plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform light work with several exceptions.
There were jobs in the national economy that plaintiff could
have performed. (Tr. 1111, 1122.) On June 6, 2016, plaintiff
had the RFC to perform light work with more severe
restrictions, which prevented her from performing any jobs
that existed in the national economy. (Tr. 1120, 1123.) Thus,
plaintiff was not disabled prior to June 6, 2016, but became
disabled on June 6, 2016. (Tr. 1123.)