United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JEFFREY T. GILBERT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Kenneth Wayne Mack, Jr. (“Claimant”) seeks review
of the final decision of Respondent Nancy Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security (“the
Commissioner”), denying Claimant's application for
Supplemental Security Income Benefits (“SSI”)
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Rule 73.1, the parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate
Judge for all proceedings, including entry of final judgment.
[ECF No. 8.] The parties have filed cross-motion for summary
judgment [ECF Nos. 24 and 26], pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 56. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c) and 405(g). For the reasons
stated below, Claimant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF
No. 24] is granted, and the Commissioner's Motion [ECF
No. 26] is denied. This matter is remanded for further
proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and
filed an application for SSI on January 10, 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of January 1, 2009. (R. 174-81.) The
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration,
after which Claimant requested an administrative hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (R.
20.) On, January 20, 2015 date, Claimant, represented by
counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before ALJ
Percival Harmon. (R. 38-83.) The ALJ also heard testimony
from vocational expert (“VE”) Cheryl Hoiseth.
29, 2015, the ALJ denied Claimant's application for SSI,
based on a finding that he was not disabled under the Act.
(R. 20-32.) The opinion followed the five-step evaluation
process required by Social Security Regulations
(“SSRs”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one,
the ALJ found that Claimant had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity (“SGA”) since the application
date of January 10, 2013. (R. 22.) At step two, the ALJ found
that Claimant had the severe impairments of affective
disorder, personality disorder, obesity, venous
insufficiency, bleeding ulcers, mild degenerative changes of
the lumbar spine, and a history of polysubstance abuse. (R.
22.) At step three, the ALJ found that Claimant did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R.
27.) The ALJ then assessed Claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) and concluded Claimant was
capable of performing sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
416.967(b) with the following limitations:
[T]he ability to lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently, to sit six hours out of eight, stand and walk two
hours out of eight with occasional work involving stairs and
ramps, and occasional crouching, kneeling, and crawling but
no work involving ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant
would be limited to routine repetitive and simple work. In
this work he would have constant ability to understand,
remember and carry out very short and simple instructions, to
maintain attention and concentration for extended periods, to
sustain a normal routine without special supervision, to make
simple work-related decisions and use judgment, and to
complete a normal work day work week without interruption
from psychologically-based symptoms and to perform at a
consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of
rest periods. He would be limited to occasional brief and
superficial interactions with the general public and would be
limited to interactions up to one third of the day with
coworkers, and to accept instruction and respond
appropriately, to criticism from supervisors. He would also
occasionally be limited in his ability to maintain socially
appropriate behavior and adhere to basic standards of
neatness and cleanliness.
(R. 29.) Based on this RFC, the ALJ determined at step four
that Claimant could not perform any past relevant work. (R.
31.) Finally, at step five, the ALJ found that there were
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that Claimant could perform. (R. 31.) Specifically,
the ALJ found Claimant could work as an office clerk or hand
packager. (Id.) Because of this determination, the
ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled under the Act. (R.
32.) The Appeals Council denied Claimant's request for
review on October 28, 2016, leaving the ALJ's decision as
the final decision of the Commissioner and, therefore,
reviewable by the District Court under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). See Haynes v. Baumhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626
(7th Cir. 2005).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
decision by an ALJ becomes the Commissioner's final
decision if the Appeals Council denies a request for review.
Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07, 120 S.Ct. 2080,
147 L.Ed.2d 80 (2000). Under such circumstances, the district
court reviews the decision of the ALJ. (Id.)
Judicial review is limited to determining whether the
decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record
and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards in
reaching his or her decision. Nelms v. Astrue, 553
F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009). The reviewing court may
enter a judgment “affirming, modifying, or reversing
the decision of the [Commissioner], with or without remanding
the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). A “mere scintilla”
of evidence is not enough. Scott v. Barnhart, 297
F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002). Even where there is adequate
evidence in the record to support the decision, the findings
will not be upheld if the ALJ does not “build an
accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to the
conclusion.” Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539,
544 (7th Cir. 2008). In other words, if the
Commissioner's decision lacks evidentiary support or
adequate discussion of the issues, it cannot stand.
Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir.
2009). Though the standard of review is deferential, a
reviewing court must “conduct a critical review of the
evidence” before affirming the Commissioner's
decision. Eichstadt v. Astrue, 534 F.3d 663, 665
(7th Cir. 2008). It may not, however, “displace the
ALJ's judgment by reconsidering facts or evidence.”
Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
appeal, Claimant asserts that the ALJ made three errors.
First, Claimant argues that the ALJ's RFC determination
with respect to Claimant's mental limitations is
unsupported by substantial evidence. Second, Claimant
contends that the ALJ failed to incorporate all of the mental
RFC findings in the hypotheticals posed to the VE. Finally,
Claimant argues that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate
Claimant's need to elevate his legs.
The Mental RFC Determination
RFC is an assessment of what work-related activities the
claimant can perform despite [his] limitations.”
Young, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004);
see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1) (“Your
residual functional capacity is the most you can still do
de-spite your limitations.”); SSR 96-8p, at *2
(“RFC is an administrative assessment of the extent to
which an individual's medically determinable
impairment(s), including any related symptoms, such as pain,
may cause physical or mental limitations or restrictions that
may affect his or her capacity to do work-related physical
and mental activities.”). The ALJ's RFC assessment
must contain a narrative discussion describing how the
evidence supports the ALJ's conclusions and explaining
why any medical source opinion was not adopted if the
ALJ's RFC assessment conflicts with such an opinion. SSR
96-8p, at *7 (“RFC assessment must include a narrative
discussion describing how the evidence supports each
conclusion, citing specific medical facts.”). Failing
to explain how an ALJ arrived at the RFC conclusions is