United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
SUZANNE M. WEBER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Suzanne M. Weber filed this action seeking reversal of the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying
her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under
Title II of the Social Security Act. The parties consented to
the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 636(c), and Plaintiff filed a
request to remand for additional proceedings before the ALJ.
This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1383(c) and 405(g). For the reasons stated below, the case is
remanded for further proceedings consistent with this
testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ) on January 28, 2016. (R. at 21). The ALJ also heard
testimony from Brian Harmon, a vocational expert (VE), and
James McKenna M.D., a medical expert (ME). (Id.).
Plaintiff's counsel and co-counsel were also present at
the hearing. (Id.). Following the hearing,
additional records were entered into the administrative
record. (Id.). The ALJ denied Plaintiff's
request for DIB on March 25, 2016. (R. at 21-30). Applying
the five-step sequential evaluation process, at step one the
ALJ found that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial
gainful activity since her alleged onset date of April 29,
2011. (Id. at 23). At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the severe impairments of a history of a pineal
tumor with hydrocephalus, and resection of the tumor.
(Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
any of the listings enumerated in the regulations.
(Id. at 124).
then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(RFC) and determined that Plaintiff had the RFC
to perform light work except “she can do no work at
unprotected heights or around hazardous machinery. She can
never climb long ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She must avoid
concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, and she can do
no commercial driving.” (R. at 17). The ALJ determined
at step four that Plaintiff was capable of performing past
relevant work as an administrative clerk. (Id. at
29). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not
under a disability at any time from April 29, 2011 through
the date of her decision. (Id. at 30).
February 27, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review. (R. at 1-6). Plaintiff now seeks judicial
review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556
F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing the Commissioner's final decision may not
engage in its own analysis of whether the plaintiff is
severely impaired as defined by the Social Security
Regulations. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001
(7th Cir. 2004). Nor may it “reweigh evidence, resolve
conflicts in the record, decide questions of credibility, or,
in general, substitute [its] own judgment for that of the
Commissioner.” Id. The Court's task is
“limited to determining whether the ALJ's factual
findings are supported by substantial evidence.”
Id. (citing § 405(g)). Evidence is considered
substantial “if a reasonable person would accept it as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Indoranto v.
Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 473 (7th Cir. 2004); see
Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1120-21 (7th Cir. 2014)
(“We will uphold the ALJ's decision if it is
supported by substantial evidence, that is, such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.”) (citation omitted).
“Substantial evidence must be more than a scintilla but
may be less than a preponderance.” Skinner v.
Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). “In
addition to relying on substantial evidence, the ALJ must
also explain his analysis of the evidence with enough detail
and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review.”
Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345,
351 (7th Cir. 2005).
this Court accords great deference to the ALJ's
determination, it “must do more than merely rubber
stamp the ALJ's decision.” Scott v.
Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation
omitted). “This deferential standard of review is
weighted in favor of upholding the ALJ's decision, but it
does not mean that we scour the record for supportive
evidence or rack our brains for reasons to uphold the
ALJ's decision. Rather, the ALJ must identify the
relevant evidence and build a ‘logical bridge'
between that evidence and the ultimate determination.”
Moon v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 718, 721 (7th Cir. 2014).
Where the Commissioner's decision “lacks
evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent
meaningful review, the case must be remanded.”
Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir.
makes a number of arguments challenging the ALJ's
decision. After reviewing the record and the parties'
briefs, the Court is convinced by Plaintiff's argument
that the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical opinions of
Plaintiff's treating physicians.
opinion of a treating source is entitled to controlling
weight if the opinion “is well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and
is not inconsistent with the other substantial
evidence.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2); accord
Bauer v. Astrue, 532 F.3d 606, 608 (7th Cir. 2008). A
treating physician typically has a better opportunity to
judge a claimant's limitations than a non-treating
physician. Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 979 (7th
Cir. 1996); Grindle v. Sullivan, 774 F.Supp. 1501,
1507-08 (N.D. Ill. 1991). “More weight is given to the
opinion of treating physicians because of their greater
familiarity with the claimant's conditions and
circumstances.” Gudgel v. Barnhart, 345 F.3d
467, 470 (7th Cir. 2003). Therefore, an ALJ “must offer
‘good reasons' for discounting a treating
physician's opinion, ” and “can reject an
examining physician's opinion only for reasons supported
by substantial evidence in the record; a contradictory
opinion of a non-examining physician does not, by itself,
suffice.” Campbell v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 299,
306 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2);
other citation omitted).
treating physician's opinion is not given controlling
weight, an ALJ must still determine what value the assessment
does merit. Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734,
740 (7th Cir. 2011); Campbell, 627 F.3d at 308. In
making that determination, the regulations require the ALJ to
consider a variety of factors, including: (1) the nature and
duration of the examining relationship; (2) the length and
extent of the treatment relationship; (3) the extent to which
medical evidence supports the opinion; (4) the degree to
which the opinion is consistent with the entire record; (5)
the physician's specialization if applicable; and (6)
other factors which validate or contradict the opinion. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)-(6). The ALJ must then provide a
“sound explanation” for that decision. Punzio
v. Astrue, 630 F.3d 704, 710 (7th Cir. 2011).
the ALJ improperly discounted the opinions of Nicholas Vick,
M.D. It is undisputed that Dr. Vick is Plaintiff's
treating neurosurgeon and treated Plaintiff from July 29,
2010 to May 23, 2013. (See R. 461-476). However, the
ALJ gave insufficient reasons for discounting Dr. Vick's
medical opinions as a treating physician. The ALJ gave
“neither controlling nor great weight” to the
November 21, 2011 Medical Source Statement from Dr. Vick,
which limited Plaintiff to part time work, because: 1)
although Plaintiff had intermittent symptoms, Dr. Vick stated
that the MRI findings were encouraging and some of her
problems were ...