United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JEFFREY COLE MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
and a half years ago, Corazon Bancolita applied for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C.
§§416(i), 423. (Administrative Record (R.) 156-59).
She claimed that she became disabled as of December 21, 2012,
and was unable to work due to insulin dependent, type 2
diabetes and neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression,
and cataracts. (R. 204). As almost four years went by, Ms.
Bancolita'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. Bancolita
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. Bancolita asks the
court to reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision,
while the Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision.
Bancolita is 58 years old, and was 54 when her insured status
expired in March 2014. She has a solid work history (R.
185-86), including seventeen years working in the airline
industry cleaning the cabins of planes. (R. 229). Most
recently, until August 2012, she worked as a home caregiver,
assisting disabled patients. (R. 227). That job was a taxing
one, involving lifting patients and doing their housework.
(R. 227). Ms. Bancolita has a number of medical problems. She
has type 2 diabetes, which she has struggled with controlling
and which has resulted in symptoms including neuropathy in
her hands and feet and edema in her legs. (R. 292, 297, 326,
328, 329, 332, 334, 336, 369). She has carpal tunnel syndrome
as well (R. 292, 329), and she is obese, with a BMI generally
around 35. (R. 290-96). Perhaps not surprisingly, given all
this, Ms. Bancolita began treatment for depression in July of
2015. (R. 344).
sixteen-minute administrative hearing (R. 39, 50) - at which
Ms. Bancolita, represented by counsel, and a vocational
expert testified - the ALJ determined she was not disabled.
The ALJ found that Ms. Bancolita had severe insulin-dependent
diabetes, severe obesity, and severe bilateral carpal tunnel
syndrome. (R. 25). The ALJ found that her depression did not
qualify as a severe impairment because there was no record of
complaints or symptoms prior to the expiration of her insured
status. (R. 25). The ALJ concluded that none of Ms.
Bancolita'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.
then determined that Ms. Bancolita could perform “less
than a full range of light work.” (R. 27). That meant
she could stand or walk for six hours a day, and lift or
carry up to 20 pounds. Stage v. Colvin, 812 F.3d
1121, 1124 (7th Cir. 2016). The ALJ added that she could not
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, could only occasionally -
one-third of the day, SSR 83-10, 1983 WL 31251, at *5-6
(1983) - balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, and could
only occasionally - again, up to one-third of the day - use
her hands for gross manipulation bilaterally. (R. 27). Along
the way, the ALJ said that she found Ms. Bancolita's
“medically determinable impairments could reasonably be
expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, [her]
statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting
effects of these symptoms are not entirely consistent with
the medical evidence and other evidence in the record for
reasons explained in this decision.” (R. 28). The ALJ
didn't say what symptoms or limiting effects Ms.
Bancolita was alleging. (R. 28-29).
then noted that treatment had been routine and conservative,
and summarized the medical evidence. (R. 28-29). She said she
gave little weight to a statement from Ms. Bancolita's
daughter because she was not a medical professional or
impartial third party. (R. 29). She gave some weight to the
opinions from state agency consultants, saying that she felt
Ms. Bancolita was a bit more limited in gross manipulation.
(R. 28). She gave no weight to the opinion from Ms.
Bancolita's treating psychiatrist that Ms. Bancolita was
disabled due to depression because treatment did not begin
until after the expiration of Ms. Bancolita's insured
status and the doctor's records did not show abnormal
behavior. (R. 29). And, finally, the ALJ gave little weight
to the opinion of Ms. Bancolita's treating physician
because it did not cite to the medical record, did not
indicate when Ms. Bancolita's insulin-dependence began,
and did not jibe with treatment records. (R. 29). For
example, the ALJ didn't believe Ms. Bancolita would need
to lie down for three hours during the day because there was
no “indication of her needing home health care or
nursing home placement.” (R. 29).
then found that Ms. Bancolita could not perform her past work
cleaning airplane cabins because it had been medium work and
was now beyond her capacity for a limited range of light
work. (R. 29). As an individual closely approaching advanced
age, with a high school education, and no transferable job
skills, Ms. Bancolita would be found “not
disabled” under the Medical Vocational Guidelines if
she had the capacity for a full range of light work. (R. 30).
As she did not, the ALJ instead relied on the testimony of
the vocational expert that Ms. Bancolita could still perform
jobs like bakery line worker, fruit distributor, and dealer
accounts investigator. (R. 30). Accordingly, the ALJ
concluded that Ms. Bancolita was not disabled and not
entitled to DIB under the Social Security Act. (R. 31).
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.”).
to begin with the ALJ's credibility finding - now called
the evaluation of symptoms, SSR 16-3p - to the extent there
was one. As already noted, the hearing in this case was just
sixteen minutes long. The transcript of the testimony at the
hearing covered just eleven pages (R. 40-50) and fewer than
five of those transcribe Ms. Bancolita's testimony. So,
we can make a pretty solid estimate that the ALJ spent fewer
than eight minutes questioning Ms. Bancolita. During those
few minutes, the ALJ asked her about her family, how much she
weighed, her education, whether she served in the military,
what kind of home she lived in, her children, whether she
received public assistance, and her job history. The ALJ
never once asked Ms. Bancolita about her impairments and
certainly not about, as her decision puts it, “the
intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these
symptoms.” (R. 28).
well-settled proposition regarding social security disability
hearings is that ‘[i]t is a basic obligation of the ALJ
to develop a full and fair record.'” Thompson
v. Sullivan, 933 F.2d 581, 585 (7th Cir. 1991). It would
certainly seem that this obligation ought to include asking a
claimant what's wrong with her or how she feels or what
she able to do around the house. But, then again, not much
can be accomplished in eight minutes. Indeed, courts have had
issues with much longer hearings being too perfunctory and
too superficial. See Lashley v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 708 F.2d 1048, 1052 (6th Cir.
1983)(“. . . the administrative law judge did not
fulfill his responsibility in this case. The hearing was
brief. It lasted a mere 25 minutes, and was fully transcribed
in approximately 11 pages.”); Sears v. Bowen,
840 F.2d 394, 403 (7th Cir. 1988)(“. . . this appears
to be a case where the ALJ relied too much on the fact that
[the claimant] had an advocate acting on his behalf and
failed to affirmatively develop a proper administrative
record. As noted, the transcript is 29 pages long; the
hearing lasted only 32 minutes.”); Novak v.
Berryhill, No. 15 CV 50236, 2017 WL 1163733, at *5 (N.D.
Ill. Mar. 29, 2017)(“The bottom line is that the
substantive portion of plaintiff's and his mother's
testimony covered roughly nine pages out of the 33-page
transcript.”); McCaster v. Colvin, No. 12 C
4059, 2014 WL 2158967, at *9 (N.D. Ill. May 23,
2014)(“. . . the ALJ's questioning of [plaintiff]
at the hearing was brief and perfunctory. The hearing lasted
approximately 27 minutes and was recorded in fewer than 15
pages. . . . [plaintiff's] actual testimony was recorded
in fewer than 12.”); Hull v. Colvin, No. 11 C
6589, 2013 WL 3771230, at *6 (N.D. Ill. July 17,
2013)(“The hearing, which lasted approximately 26
minutes, is recorded in 14 transcript ...