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Johnson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

June 5, 2018

JOHANNA R. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARY M. ROWLAND UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Johanna R. Johnson 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 and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act). 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 423 et. seq, 1381 et seq. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 636(c), and filed cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI benefits on September 26, 2013, alleging that she became disabled on July 15, 2010. (R. at 91). These claims were denied initially on December 9, 2013, and upon reconsideration on May 6, 2014, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 15-17, 91-102, 105-122). On September 29, 2015, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 38-90). The ALJ also heard testimony from Thomas Dunleavy, a vocational expert (VE). (Id.).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on October 29, 2015. (R. at 18- 32). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of July 15, 2010. (Id. at 23). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: arthritis in the bilateral shoulders, and status-post two surgeries on the right shoulder and one surgery on the left shoulder. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any of the listings enumerated in the regulations. (Id. at 24).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[2] and determined that from July 15, 2010, through October 31, 2013, Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), but with the following limitations:

[T]he claimant was limited to lifting and carrying twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. In addition, she was able to stand and walk for about six hours in an eight-hour workday, and was able to sit for about six hours in an eight-hour workday, with normal rest periods. However, the claimant was unable to work at heights or frequently climb ladders, and she was limited to only frequent handling and manipulation, pushing/ pulling, and reaching bilaterally.

(R. at 24). The ALJ found that Plaintiff's condition worsened starting on November 1, 2013. Since that date, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work except:

[T]he claimant would be limited to lifting and carrying ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently. In addition, she would be able to stand and walk for about six hours in an eight-hour workday, and would be able to sit for about six hours in an eight-hour workday, with normal rest periods. However, the claimant would be unable to work at heights or frequently climb ladders, and she would be limited to only frequent handling and manipulation, pushing/ pulling, and reaching bilaterally.

(Id.). The ALJ determined at step four that from July 15, 2010, through October 31, 2013, Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a fast food worker and as a dietary aid. (Id.). Additionally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work as of November 1, 2013, the date her condition worsened. (Id. at 31). Based on Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, work experience, and the VE's testimony that Plaintiff is capable of performing work as a cashier, an inspector packager, and an usher, the ALJ determined at step five that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Id. at 31-32). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under disability, as defined by the Act, from the alleged onset date July 15, 2010, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 32).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 6, 2017. (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).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is authorized by § 405(g) of the Act. In reviewing this decision, the Court 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). It “must be more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). The ALJ's decision must be explained “with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review.” Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005).

         Although 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). “[T]he 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 ...


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