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Denson v. Berryhill

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

July 24, 2018

HENRY G. DENSON, JR., Claimant,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.


          Jeffrey T. Gilbert United States Magistrate Judge

         Claimant Henry G. Denson, Jr. (“Claimant”) seeks review of the final decision of Respondent Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”), denying Claimant's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II 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. 7.] Claimant has filed a memorandum seeking to reverse or remand the Commissioner's decision, which the Court will construe as a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. [ECF No. 15.] This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         For the reasons stated below, Claimant's Motion [ECF No. 15] is granted. The decision of the Commissioner is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.


         Claimant filed his claim for DIB on October 18, 2012, alleging disability beginning August 15, 2008. (R. 29.) The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which Claimant requested an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Id.) On January 23, 2015, Claimant, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before ALJ Victoria A. Ferrer. (R. 117-20, 126-53.) During the hearing, however, Claimant became ill and was taken to the hospital by paramedics. (R. 153-54.) On April 9, 2015, the hearing continued, and Claimant, again represented by counsel, resumed giving testimony. (R. 29, 45-47, 53-110.) The ALJ also heard testimony from vocational expert (“VE”) Pamela Tucker at the continued hearing. (R. 29.)

         On May 22, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying Claimant's claim for DIB. (R. 26-44.) The opinion followed the five-step evaluation process required by Social Security Regulations (“SSRs”).[1] 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) since his alleged onset disability date of August 15, 2008 through his date last insured (“DLI”), June 30, 2009. (R. 31.) At step two, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, obesity, a history of asthma, sinus tarsi syndrome of the right foot, capsulitis of the right foot, and tarsal tunnel syndrome of the right foot. (R. 32.) 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. 33.) The ALJ then determined that, through the DLI, Claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[2] to:

perform sedentary work . . . except that he could stand and/or walk continuously for 20 minutes at one time; could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; would need to avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants; could occasionally work with hazardous machines with moving, mechanical parts; could never work in high exposed places; and could never operate foot controls on the right foot.

(R. 33.) Based on this RFC, the ALJ found at step four that Claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work. (R. 37-38.) Finally, at step five, the ALJ determined that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Claimant could have performed through his DLI, such as telephone quotation clerk, circuit board assembler, or document preparer. (R. 38-39.) Because of this determination at step five, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled under the Act. (R. 39.) The Appeals Council declined to review the matter on January 20, 2017, 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).


         A 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 (2000). Judicial review is limited to determining whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards in reaching his or her decision. See 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 of Social Security, 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, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal quotations omitted). 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) (internal quotations omitted). In other words, if the Commissioner's decision lacks evidentiary support or adequate discussion of the issues, it cannot stand. See 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) (internal quotations omitted). The reviewing court may not, however, “displace the ALJ's judgment by reconsidering facts or evidence, or by making independent credibility determinations.” Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Claimant alleges numerous errors on appeal. Claimant contends that the ALJ (1) failed to properly consider the opinion of Claimant's treating physician; (2) had no medical basis for her RFC determination; and (3) improperly evaluated Claimant's subjective symptom statements. [ECF No. 15, at 8-15; ECF No. 23.] The Court addresses each of these arguments below.

         A. The Treating Physician's Opinion

         Claimant first argues that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of his treating podiatrist, John Grady, D.P.M.[3] Dr. Grady completed a physical RFC questionnaire in October 2014 in which he recommended certain limitations. (R. 817-21.) At the time Dr. Grady completed the RFC questionnaire, he had been treating Claimant for almost eight years. (R. 677, 817, 821.) The ALJ considered Dr. Grady's opinions, but gave them no weight. (R. 37.) Claimant contends that, by giving ...

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