United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CLIFFORD J. PROUD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Tina L. P.
(Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the final agency
decision denying her application for Disability Insurance
Benefits (DIB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
applied for DIB on November 4, 2013, alleging a disability
onset date of July 30, 2013. (Tr. 162-63). Plaintiff's
application was denied at the initial level and again upon
reconsideration. (Tr. 81, 99). Plaintiff requested an
evidentiary hearing, (Tr. 159), which Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) Stephen Hanekamp conducted on May 25, 2016, (Tr.
41-65). The ALJ reached an unfavorable determination on
October 3, 2016. (Tr. 8-30). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's
decision the final agency decision. (Tr. 1-7). Plaintiff
exhausted her administrative remedies and filed a timey
complaint with this Court. (Doc. 1).
Raised by Plaintiff
contends the ALJ erroneously determined what impairments were
“severe” and improperly considered the evidence
in determining her residual functional capacity.
qualify for DIB, a claimant must be disabled, which 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. §
“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
Hanekamp found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
through December 31, 2019 and had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since July 30, 2013, the alleged onset date.
(Tr. 13). Plaintiff had severe impairments of degenerative
disc disease, meniscal tear of the left knee, fibromyalgia,
depression, anxiety, and personality disorder. (Tr. 14). The
ALJ opined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work with
several additional limitations. (Tr. 17). Plaintiff's RFC
precluded her from performing past relevant work, buts she
was not disabled because other jobs existed that Plaintiff
could perform. (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 indicated that the following
conditions limited her ability to work: fibromyalgia; chronic
depression; insomnia; a thyroid condition; head, back, and
neck injuries; irritable bowel syndrome; high blood pressure;
and anxiety. (Tr. 188). She experienced constant pain
“from head to toe” and took prescription pain
medications, including, Roxicodone, Tramadol, and Diclofenac.
The medications helped her cope with the pain but did not
completely relieve her symptoms. They also made her drowsy
and dizzy. Plaintiff alleged she could not sit or stand very
long and felt pain with stretching, bending, and lifting.
Consequentially, she had difficulty cooking, cleaning,
shopping, sleeping, and taking care of personal needs. She
could make microwavable meals and sandwiches and wash laundry
and dishes. Her hobbies and social activities included
reading, watching television, browsing Facebook, talking with
friends, and playing cards. Plaintiff also struggled with
mental illness and had suicidal tendencies. She was always
irritable and tired. She handled stress “OK” and
was “good” at handling changes in routines. (Tr.
204, 217-24, 241).
Hanekamp conducted an evidentiary hearing in May 2016.
Plaintiff testified that she engaged in self-harm such as
repeatedly punching herself. She most recently harmed herself
two weeks before the hearing. (Tr. 49). She estimated she
inflicted injury on herself about 15 or 20 times. She pounded
her head on the wall, hit herself in the head with a piece of
metal, burned herself, or cut herself. She has also run in
front of a bus a couple of times and pulled her hair out.
mental impairments affected her on a daily basis. She had
problems focusing, got angry, and thought about harming
herself and others. She previously committed herself to the
hospital when she had harmful thoughts. About four times each
month she isolated herself and did not get out of bed. (Tr.
52). Plaintiff did not notice an improvement ...