United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
CRAIG S. A.,  Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER of SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff seeks
judicial review of the final agency decision denying his
application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
applied for benefits in December 2013 alleging disability
beginning on May 24, 2013. After holding an evidentiary
hearing, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Jason R. Yoder denied
the application in a written decision dated February 10,
2016. (Tr. 27-40.) The Appeals Council denied review, and the
decision of the ALJ became the final agency decision. (Tr.
1.) Administrative remedies have been exhausted, and a timely
complaint was filed in this Court.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following points:
1. The ALJ erroneously found that Plaintiff's right knee
arthroscopy in July 2013 was unrelated to his total knee
arthroplasty in the same knee on November 14, 2014. If he had
properly considered the evidence, he should have found that
Plaintiff's injury to his right knee in May 2013 caused
one continuous period of disability from May 2013 through at
least October 2015.
2. The ALJ erred in the weight he afforded to the opinion of
Plaintiff's primary care physician, Dr. Walls, and to the
opinions of the reviewing doctors.
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).
Decision of the ALJ
Yoder followed the five-step analytical framework described
above. He determined that Plaintiff had not worked at the
level of substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset
date. He was insured for DIB through December 31, 2018. He
found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of right knee
degenerative joint disease, mild right hip osteoarthritis,
bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes, sleep apnea,
obesity, and compression fracture at ¶ 1, which did not
meet or equal a listed impairment.
found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform work at the light exertional level, limited
to no operation of foot controls or push/pull with the right
lower extremity; no climbing of ladders, ropes, or
scaffolding; occasional climbing of ramps or stairs;
occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and
crawling; no concentrated exposure to workplace hazards; and
only frequent use of the upper extremities for pushing,
pulling, operating hand controls, handling, fine fingering,
on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was not disabled because he was able to do his
past relevant work as a bottle-house quality control
technician (beer bottler).