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Neitzel v. Berryhill

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

July 23, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.


          Jeffrey T. Gilbert United States Magistrate Judge.

         Robert H. Neitzel (“Claimant”) seeks review of the final decision of Respondent Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”), denying Claimant's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income Benefits (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“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. 12.] The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment [ECF Nos. 15 and 16] 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. 15] is granted, and the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 16] is denied. The decision of the Commissioner is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.


         Effective August 12, 2012, Claimant filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of October 30, 2011. (R. 108-111.) Claimant's applications were denied at the initial level, (R. 90, 99), and on reconsideration (R. 112, 122), after which time Claimant requested an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). On June 25, 2013, Claimant, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at an administrative hearing before ALJ Robert Senander. (R. 60-89.) On July 29, 2013, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (R. 135-145.) The Appeals Council subsequently remanded the case back to the ALJ for further proceedings. (R. 150-153.) A new administrative hearing was held on June 12, 2015. (R. 15- 61.) Claimant, represented by counsel, appeared and testified before ALJ Senander. (Id.) The ALJ also heard testimony from medical expert (“ME”) Dr. Kathleen M. O'Brian and vocational expert (“VE”) Aimee Mowery. (Id.)

         On August 26, 2015, the ALJ issued his written decision denying Claimant's claims for DIB and SSI. (R. 157-171.) The opinion followed the five-step evaluation process required by Social Security Regulations (“SSR”).[1] 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) since October 30, 2011, the alleged onset date. (R. 159.) At step two, the ALJ found that Claimant had the severe impairments of degenerative joint disease, obesity, diabetes mellitus, bipolar disorder, and alcohol abuse in remission. (Id.) 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. 160.) The ALJ then assessed Claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[2] and concluded:

[Claimant] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he can only stand or walk for two hours in a six hour [sic] workday. The claimant can sit for six hours at a stretch. He can occasionally climb stairs and ramps but can never climb ladders. He can occasionally balance, stoop, crouch but cannot crawl. He can have no contact with the general public and only occasional brief and superficial contact with coworkers and supervisors.

(R. 163.) Based on this RFC, the ALJ determined at step four that Claimant could not perform any past relevant work. (R. 169.) 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. 170.) Specifically, the ALJ found Claimant could work as a weight tester (DOT # 539.485-010), final assembler (DOT # 713.687-018), and bench worker (DOT # 715.684-026). (R. 170.). Because of this determination, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled under Act. (R. 171.) The Appeals Counsel declined to review the matter on November 10, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner and, therefore, reviewable by this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Haynes v. Baumhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005).


         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).

         Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 42 U.S. 389, 401 (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).

         III. ANALYSIS

         On appeal, Claimant asserts that the ALJ made two errors. First, Claimant argues that the ALJ improperly assessed his subjective complaints and credibility. Second, Claimant argues that the ALJ's proffered RFC is incomplete. For the reasons discussed below, the Court agrees that remand is required on both issues.

         A. The Credibility Determination

         Claimant first contends that the ALJ erred in evaluating his subjective symptom statements and credibility. [ECF No. 15, at 7-13.] The ALJ's credibility determination “must contain specific reasons for the finding on credibility, supported by the evidence in the case record, and must be sufficiently specific to make clear to the individual and to any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the individual's statements and the reasons for that weight.” SSR 96-7p.[3]Although an ALJ's credibility determination is entitled to special deference, an ALJ still is required to “build an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and the result.” Shramrek v. Apfel,226 F.3d 809, 811 (7th Cir. 2000). An ALJ's ...

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