United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DAVID WEISMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Belluomini brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) for judicial review of the Social Security
Administration (“SSA's”) decision denying his
application for benefits. For the reasons set forth below,
the Court reverses the SSA's decision.
filed an application for disability benefits on August 26,
2015, alleging a disability onset date of September 15, 2013.
(R. 77, 89.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially
on November 30, 2015, and on reconsideration on April 19,
2016. (R. 89, 108.) An Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing on plaintiff's
application on November 30, 2016. (See R. 36-75.) On
January 31, 2017, the ALJ denied plaintiff's application.
(See R. 17-30.) The Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review (R. 1-4), leaving the
ALJ's decision as the final decision of the SSA,
reviewable by this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
See Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th
Court reviews the ALJ's decision deferentially, affirming
if it is supported by “substantial evidence in the
record, ” i.e., “‘such relevant evidence as
a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” White v. Sullivan, 965 F.2d
133, 136 (7th Cir. 1992) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). “Although this
standard is generous, it is not entirely uncritical, ”
and the case must be remanded if the “decision lacks
evidentiary support.” Steele v. Barnhart, 290
F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted).
the Social Security Act, disability is defined 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 regulations prescribe a five-part
sequential test for determining whether a claimant is
disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The SSA
must consider whether: (1) the claimant has performed any
substantial gainful activity during the period for which she
claims disability; (2) the claimant has a severe impairment
or combination of impairments; (3) the claimant's
impairment meets or equals any listed impairment; (4) the
claimant retains the residual functional capacity to perform
her past relevant work; and (5) the claimant is able to
perform any other work existing in significant numbers in the
national economy. Id.; Zurawski v. Halter,
245 F.3d 881, 885 (7th Cir. 2001). The claimant bears the
burden of proof at steps one through four. Zurawski,
245 F.3d at 886. If that burden is met, at step five, the
burden shifts to the SSA to establish that the claimant is
capable of performing work existing in significant numbers in
the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2).
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
(R. 19.) At step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has
the severe impairments of “right shoulder injury,
generalized pain, obesity, depressive disorder and anxiety
disorder.” (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found
that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of one
of the listed impairments. (R. 20.) At step four, the ALJ
found that, plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant
work but had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform sedentary work with certain
restrictions. (R. 23, 29.) At step five, the ALJ found that
jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that plaintiff can perform, and thus he is not disabled. (R.
argues that the ALJ improperly weighed the Veterans
Administration's (“VA's”) decision that
plaintiff was disabled. With respect to the VA's
decision, the ALJ said:
. . . . [T]he VA assigned claimant a 70% total disability due
to his knee, elbow, cervical spine, myofacial pain, and
shoulder [pain]. On July 1, 2015, the VA found claimant one
hundred percent disabled. Little weight is given to this
opinion because a decision by another governmental agency
about whether a person is disabled is based on its rules and
is not our decision about whether a person is disabled. The
VA uses different standards and awards percentages which is
different from a disability determination based on Social
Security Law. Therefore, a determination made by another
agency that a person is disabled is not binding on Social
Security Administration. . . .
the VA's decision is not binding on the Social Security
Administration, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1504,  the ALJ is
“required to evaluate all of the evidence in the case
record that [might] have a bearing on [her] determination . .
., including decisions by other governmental . . .
agencies” and to “evaluate the [medical] opinion
evidence . . . used by other agencies, that [is] in [the]
case record.” SSR 06-03p, 2006 WL 2329939, at *7 (Aug.
9, 2006); see Allord v. Barnhart, 455 F.3d 818, 820
(7th Cir. 2006) (stating that an ALJ should have given the
VA's disability determination “some weight”)
contends that the ALJ did so, citing generally to the
ALJ's discussion of the medical evidence. (Def.'s
Resp. Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF 19 at 3-4.) However, that
discussion does not address the medical evidence on which the
VA disability determination was based. (Compare R.
307-407 (Ex. 1F) (medical evidence on which the VA relied),
with R. 24-28 (ALJ discussion of medical evidence
without any mention of the evidence in Exhibit 1F)), which
distinguishes this case from the ones cited by the SSA.
See Gleason v. Colvin, No. 13-C-1378, 2015 WL
3454126, at *24 (E.D. Wis. May 29, 2015) (“Here, the
ALJ . . . consider[ed] . . . the reports of the VA doctors
upon which the disability rating was based . . . .”);
Kirby v. Colvin, No. 2:14-CV-252-WTL-MJD, 2015 WL
3862524, at *11 (S.D. Ind. June 22, 2015) (noting that
“the ALJ discussed both the objective tests that the VA
performed and the conclusions that the VA's doctors
reached”). Because the ALJ's decision gives no
indication that she considered the medical evidence relied on
by the VA, the case must be remanded.
also argues that the ALJ improperly evaluated the opinion
evidence of consultative examiner Dr. Kocher. Dr. Kocher
opined that plaintiff has “a chronic history of anxiety
and depression that has resulted in severe impairment in
social, occupational, and interpersonal functioning.”
(R. 410.) The ALJ gave “[l]ittle weight” to Dr.
Kocher's opinion because she was not plaintiff's
treating physician; did not point to evidence to support her
opinion that plaintiff is severely impaired; and relied on
plaintiff's reports of panic attacks, which the rest of
the record refuted. (R. 28.) The regulations require an ALJ
“[to] evaluate every medical opinion” by
considering a number of factors, including whether the
medical source is a specialist, whether the source examined
or treated the claimant, the evidentiary support offered for