United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
TAMMIE D. D. Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CLIFFORD J. PROUD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Tammie D. D.
(Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the final agency
decision denying her application for Disability Insurance
Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
applied for DIB and SSI on June 21, 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of March 21, 2013. (Tr. 204-16).
Plaintiff's application was denied at the initial level
and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 112-13; 137-40).
Plaintiff requested an evidentiary hearing, which
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Joseph Heimann conducted on
July 21, 2016. (Tr. 36-95). ALJ Heimann reached an
unfavorable decision on September 30, 2016. (Tr. 13-24). The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
rendering the ALJ's decision the final agency decision.
(Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies
and filed a timely Complaint in this Court. (Doc. 1).
Raised by Plaintiff
asserts the ALJ's disability determination was erroneous
because he failed to articulate how long Plaintiff could walk
throughout the workday; did not properly evaluate medical
evidence in determining her RFC; and omitted Plaintiff's
anxiety diagnosis from his analysis at Step 2. Alternatively,
Plaintiff asserts the ALJ should have found her disabled for
a closed period.
qualify for SSI and/or DIB, a claimant must be disabled
within the meaning of the applicable statutes. For these
purposes, “disabled” means 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).
“physical or mental impairment” is an impairment
resulting from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities, which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(3). “Substantial gainful activity”
is work activity that involves doing significant physical or
mental activities, and that is done for pay or profit. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1572.
Security regulations set forth a sequential five-step inquiry
to determine whether a claimant is disabled. The Seventh
Circuit Court of Appeals has explained this process as
The first step considers whether the applicant is engaging in
substantial gainful activity. The second step evaluates
whether an alleged physical or mental impairment is severe,
medically determinable, and meets a durational requirement.
The third step compares the impairment to a list of
impairments that are considered conclusively disabling. If
the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments,
then the applicant is considered disabled; if the impairment
does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then the
evaluation continues. The fourth step assesses an
applicant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and
ability to engage in past relevant work. If an applicant can
engage in past relevant work, he is not disabled. The fifth
step assesses the applicant's RFC, as well as his age,
education, and work experience to determine whether the
applicant can engage in other work. If the applicant can
engage in other work, he is not disabled.
Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565, 568-569 (7th
another way, it must be determined: (1) whether the claimant
is presently unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has an
impairment or combination of impairments that is serious; (3)
whether the impairments meet or equal one of the listed
impairments acknowledged to be conclusively disabling; (4)
whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and (5)
whether the claimant is capable of performing any work within
the economy, given his or her age, education and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Simila v.
Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 512-513 (7th Cir. 2009);
Schroeter v. Sullivan, 977 F.2d 391, 393 (7th Cir.
answer at steps one and two is “yes, ” the
claimant will automatically be found disabled if he or she
suffers from a listed impairment, determined at step three.
If the claimant does not have a listed impairment at step
three, and cannot perform his or her past work (step four),
the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show
that the claimant can perform some other job. Rhoderick
v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984). See
also Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir.
2001) (Under the five-step evaluation, an “affirmative
answer leads either to the next step, or, on Steps 3 and 5,
to a finding that the claimant is disabled. . . . If a
claimant reaches step 5, the burden shifts to the ALJ to
establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in
the national economy.”).
Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to ensure that
the decision is supported by substantial evidence and that no
mistakes of law were made. It is important to recognize that
the scope of review is limited. “The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Thus, this Court must determine not
whether plaintiff was, in fact, disabled at the relevant
time, but whether the ALJ's findings were supported by
substantial evidence and whether any errors of law were made.
See, Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 977-78 (7th Cir.
1996) (citing Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 306 (7th
Cir. 1995)). This Court uses the Supreme Court's
definition of substantial evidence, i.e., “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
reviewing for “substantial evidence, ” the entire
administrative record is taken into consideration, but this
Court 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). However, while judicial
review is deferential, it is not abject; this Court does not
act as a rubber stamp for the Commissioner. See, Parker
v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010), and cases
Heimann determined Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements through June 30, 2017 and had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since March 21, 2013, the
alleged onset date. (Tr. 15). Plaintiff had severe
impairments of status post-bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome;
emphysema; status post right hip replacement; degenerative
joint disease of the left knee with meniscus tear;
osteoporosis; and right heel spur. (Tr. 15-16). Plaintiff had
the RFC to perform light work, except that she could only
“stand and walk” four hours out of an eight-hour
workday. Plaintiff was additionally limited to occasionally
performing foot control operations bilaterally. Moreover, she
could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, kneel, or
crawl. Plaintiff could occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
stoop, and crouch, and had to avoid exposure to concentrated
levels of irritants. (Tr. 17). The ALJ determined Plaintiff
could perform past relevant work and was therefore not
disabled. (Tr. 23-24).
Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary
record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The
following summary of the record is directed to the points
raised by Plaintiff.
agency forms, Plaintiff stated heel spurs, heart disease, a
back injury, depression, emphysema, and carpel tunnel
syndrome limited her ability to work. (Tr. 236). Plaintiff
was most recently employed as a cashier at a grocery store.
(Tr. 237). She alleged she was unable to continue her
employment because it required her to be on her feet at all
times. She experienced extreme pain in her feet, ankles,
legs, back, hips, hands, and wrists and was
“useless” after work. (Tr. 269). On an average
day, Plaintiff had breakfast and rested before work, with her
legs elevated. On days she did not work, she rested with Icy
Hot cream on her feet, legs, back, and neck. Pain kept her
awake at night. She had difficulty dressing and using stairs,
and kept a chair in her bathroom to get in and out of her
bathtub. (Tr. 270). Plaintiff could not prepare meals because
it hurt to stand. (Tr. 271). She did laundry once each week
and could grocery shop but did not do any other house or yard
work because it was too painful. (Tr. 271-72). Plaintiff was
able to drive. Her hobbies included reading and watching
television. (Tr. 273). Plaintiff could walk a half a block
before needing to stop and rest. She could pay attention for
fifteen minutes, followed spoken and written instructions
fairly well, got along with authority figures “fine,
” and handled stress fairly well, unless she was in
pain. She used a cane to do laundry but it was not prescribed
to her by a physician. (Tr. 274-75). Plaintiff stated she
could not sit for even two hours because of pain. (Tr. 279).
Heimann conducted an evidentiary hearing in July 2016, at
which Plaintiff was represented by counsel. (Tr. 39). Before
commencing the hearing, the ALJ went over the exhibits and
medical records with Plaintiff and her counsel. (Tr. 40-42).
The ALJ asked, “Counsel, you're satisfied the
record is complete?” Plaintiff's counsel responded,
“No objection. I'm awaiting records from Dr.
Morton, who's an orthopedic doctor, who had replaced her