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Canell House v. Berryhill

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

June 18, 2018

CANELL HOUSE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARY M. ROWLAND, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Canell House filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his 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 July 15, 2013, alleging that he became disabled on January 1, 2009 because of chest pains, heart problems, arthritis, back and knee problems, tennis elbow and high cholesterol. (R. at 106-09). These claims were denied initially on November 19, 2013, and upon reconsideration on June 10, 2014, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 14- 15, 106-09, 137-140). On November 19, 2015, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 36-83). The ALJ also heard testimony from Ashok Jilhewar, M.D., a medical expert (ME), and James Breen, a vocational expert (VE). (Id.).

         The ALJ issued a partially favorable decision on March 1, 2016. (R. at 20-35). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since his amended alleged onset date of September 26, 2012. (Id. at 23). At step two, the ALJ found that since the alleged onset date, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease of the bilateral knees and mild degenerative changes in the lumbar spine. (Id.). Beginning on January 16, 2013, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff also had the following severe impairments: major depressive disorder and substance abuse. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ found 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.).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[2] and determined that prior to January 16, 2013, Plaintiff had the RFC to perform medium work as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c), except for the following limitations: “He could lift up to fifty pounds occasionally, and lift or carry up to twenty-five pounds frequently. He could not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He could frequently climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl.” (R. at 23). Beginning on January 16, 2013, however, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), except:

The claimant can lift up to ten pounds occasionally and five pounds frequently. He can stand and/ or walk for approximately two hours per eight-hour workday, and sit for approximately six hours per eight-hour workday, with normal breaks. The claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl. The claimant is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks in work at a variable pace; involving only end of the day production requirements; with no other periodic or hourly production quotas. The claimant is limited to only occasional interaction with the public in the work setting, coworkers, and supervisors.

(R. at 23). The ALJ determined at step four that since September 26, 2012, Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 27). Based on Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, work experience, and the VE's testimony that Plaintiff was capable of performing work as a janitor, dishwasher, and hand packer, the ALJ determined at step five that prior to January 16, 2013, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Id. at 27-38). However, the ALJ found that beginning on January 16, 2013, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and RFC, there are no jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Id. at 28). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was disabled, as defined by the Act, beginning on January 16, 2013, but was not disabled prior to that date. (Id. at 29).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 24, 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 poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, the case must be remanded.” Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff makes a number of arguments challenging the ALJ's decision. After reviewing the record and the parties' briefs, the Court is persuaded by Plaintiff's arguments that the ALJ erred ...


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