United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
KENNETH W. K., Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT DISTRICT JUDGE.
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Kenneth W.
K., represented by counsel, seeks review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his
application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
applied for disability benefits in January 2016, alleging
disability beginning on November 14, 2015. After holding an
evidentiary hearing, ALJ Raymond L. Souza denied the
application on February 17, 2017. (Tr. 15-28.) The Appeals
Council denied plaintiff's request for review, and the
ALJ's decision became the final agency decision subject
to judicial review. (Tr. 1.) Plaintiff has exhausted
administrative remedies and has filed a timely complaint in
makes the following arguments:
1. The ALJ's finding that plaintiff had engaged in
substantial gainful activity in the fourth quarter of 2015
2. The ALJ did not properly evaluate the opinions of treating
psychiatrist Jeffrey Chalfant, counselor Justine Livesay, and
state agency reviewer David Biscardi.
3. The ALJ did not properly assess the reliability of his
statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting
effects of his symptoms.
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 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
Souza followed the five-step analytical framework described
above. He determined that plaintiff had engaged in
substantial gainful activity in the fourth quarter of 2015,
but not thereafter, and he is insured for DIB through
December 31, 2020.
found that plaintiff had severe impairments of post-traumatic
stress disorder, depression, and anxiety, and that these
impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment.
Souza concluded that plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity to perform work at the medium exertional level with
the following limitations:
[H]e should avoid using hazardous machinery. He is also able
to remember, understand, and carry out simple and routine
instructions and tasks consistent with SVP levels 1 and 2
type jobs with only occasional decision making required and
occasional changes in the work setting. There should also be
no strict production quotas with emphasis on a per shift
rather than per hour basis. Additionally the ...