United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
JENNIFER E. FARLEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey Cole, Magistrate Judge
years ago, Jennifer Farley filed an application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C.
§§416(i), 423. (Administrative Record (R.)
178-179). She claimed that she became disabled as of April 1,
2010, and was unable to work due to degenerative disc
disease, osteoarthritis, bulging/herniated disc, spondylitis,
bone spurs, facet syndrome, myofascial pain syndrome,
migraines, depression/anxiety/PTSD. (R. 226). Over the course
of the ensuing three years, Ms. Farley's application was
denied at every level of administrative review: initial,
reconsideration, administrative law judge (ALJ), and appeals
council. It is the ALJ's decision that is before the
court for review. See 20 C.F.R. §§404.955; 404.981.
Ms. Farley filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the
parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate
Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Ms. Farley asks
the court to reverse and remand the Commissioner's
decision, while the Commissioner seeks an order affirming the
Farley was nearly 40 years old at the time of the ALJ's
decision. (R. 178). Up until about eight years ago, she had a
solid work history, most recently in administrative support
for a locomotive company. (R. 214-215). The medical record in
this case is over 500 pages long. But as the plaintiff deems
only about 20 of those pages relevant [Dkt. # 19, at 9, 15],
and the Commissioner doesn't refer to a singe piece of
medical evidence to support her position, a brief overview
will suffice. Ms. Farley began having trouble with her back
in 2009 (R. 39) and, as a result, underwent surgical fusion
of her spine from L4 through S1. (R. 395). After surgery, she
underwent a fourteen-month course of physical therapy, but
gained no improvement in her back range of motion, and still
had pain during movement. (R. 327-380). She has had
injections multiple times in an effort to gain relief from
her pain in her lower back above her fusion and in her
sacroiliac joint. (R. 400, 405, 437, 452, 455, 458, 461, 464,
466, 469, 474, 581, 583). She has had a “bilateral
lumbar radiofrequency ablation. She also takes oxycodone and
hydrocodone, and uses lidocaine and declefenac-epilamine
patches. (R. 404, 488). She has sought treatment for
migraines and right shoulder pain, as well as depression and
anxiety. (R. 403, 404, 626, 780).
an administrative hearing - at which Ms. Farley, represented
by counsel, and a medical expert and a vocational expert
testified - the ALJ determined she was not disabled. The ALJ
found that Ms. Farley had two severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease and status post spinal fusion. (R.
19). The ALJ found that her mood disorder caused her no more
than a mild limitation in the area of maintaining
concentration, persistence, and pace, and so was a non-severe
impairment. (R. 19-20). None of Ms. Farley's impairments,
singly or in combination, amounted to a condition that met or
equaled an impairment assumed to be disabling in the
Commissioner's listings. (R. 20-21).
then determined that Ms. Farley could perform sedentary work
as defined in the Commissioner's regulations. (R. 21).
That means work that:
involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and
occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files,
ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined
as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking
and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties.
Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required
occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1567. In addition, the ALJ found that
Ms. Farley could occasionally climb ramps and stairs but
could never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She could
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. She
could occasionally be exposed to vibrations, moving
machinery, or unprotected heights. And, the ALJ determined
that “[d]ue to pain, she [was limited to performing]
simple routine tasks requiring no more than short, simple
instructions and simple work related decision-making with few
workplace changes.” (R. 21). The ALJ essentially based
this residual functional capacity finding on the testimony of
the medical expert, who felt Ms. Farley could perform
sedentary work with “occasional functional
activities.” (R. 24, 46). She rejected the opinion of
Ms. Farley's treating physician, saying it was based on
Ms. Farley's subjective complaints and not on any medical
findings. (R. 25).
also rejected Ms. Farley's allegations regarding her
symptoms and limitations. She said they were “not
entirely consistent with the medical record and the other
evidence in the record . . . .” (R. 23). Relying on the
testimony of the vocational expert from the administrative
hearing, the ALJ determined that, while Ms. Farley could no
longer perform her past work, but could nevertheless perform
other work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy: packer (Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT)
737.587-010), assembler (DOT 739.687-066), and inspector (DOT
669.687-014). (R. 27). As a result, the ALJ concluded that
Ms. Farley was not disabled and not entitled to DIB. (R. 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); Schloesser
v. Berryhill, 870 F.3d 712, 717 (7th Cir. 2017)
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). 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.”).
Security disability appeals nearly always involve the