United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
TINA R. C.,  Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT DISTRICT JUDGE
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Tina R.
C., represented by counsel, seeks judicial review of the
final agency decision denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 423.
applied for benefits on March 2, 2015, alleging disability
beginning in June 2012. However, plaintiff later amended her
alleged onset date to March 2, 2015. Plaintiff was denied
benefits and requested an evidentiary hearing, which was held
on January 28, 2016, by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Kevin
R. Martin. ALJ Martin denied the application on March 31,
2016. (Tr. 18-30.) The Appeals Council denied review, and ALJ
Martin's decision became the final agency decision
subject to judicial review. (Tr. 1-6.) Administrative
remedies have been exhausted and a timely complaint was filed
with this Court.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following points:
1. The ALJ committed reversible error when he failed to
account for plaintiff's moderate limitations in
maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace in assessing
plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity (RFC).
2. Because the vocational expert (VE) was not asked to
account for plaintiff's moderate limitations in
maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace, the
ALJ's decision at step five was not supported by
qualify for benefits, a claimant must be
“disabled” pursuant to the Social Security Act.
The Act defines “disabled” as “unable 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
twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The
physical or mental impairment must result from a medically
demonstrable abnormality. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(D).
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. § 416.972.
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. § 416.920(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
Martin followed the five-step analytical framework described
above. He determined that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since March 2, 2015, the
application and alleged onset date. He found plaintiff had
severe impairments of degenerative disc disease;
osteoarthritis; COPD; fibromyalgia; obesity; bilateral carpal
tunnel syndrome status post release on the right; history of
plantar fasciitis; major depressive disorder; personality
disorder; and a history of substance abuse. However, the ALJ
found that none of her impairments individually or in
combination met or medically equaled the severity of a listed
impairment. The ALJ did find plaintiff had moderate
deficiencies in social functioning and moderate difficulties
with concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 26.)
Martin found plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work with
physical and mental limitations. The ALJ found
plaintiff's mental limitations are that “[s]he is
limited to understanding, remembering, and carrying out
short, simple instructions on a sustained basis in a work
setting that does not require interaction with the general
public in the work setting.” (Tr. 22.)
on testimony from a VE, ALJ Martin found plaintiff was
incapable of performing any past relevant work, but that
other jobs existed in significant numbers within the national
economy when considering plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, and RFC.