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Miles v. Berryhill

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

July 27, 2018

REGINA MILES, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This action was brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Regina Miles's (“Plaintiff”) claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's memorandum, which this Court will construe as a motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 17], is granted and the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 21] is denied.



         On December 12, 2012, Plaintiff filed claims for both DIB and SSI, alleging disability since November 21, 2011, due to lupus, heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and thyroid conditions. (R. 171-78, 195.) Her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. 80-121, 124-25.) An administrative hearing was held on September 9, 2014, at which Plaintiff personally appeared and testified at the hearing and was represented by counsel. (R. 35-79.) Vocational expert Richard Hamersma also testified (Id.)

         On October 27, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. 17-34.) After noting that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2016, the ALJ proceeded through the five-step sequential evaluation process required by Social Security Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 and 416.902(a). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 22, 2102, the amended alleged onset date. (R. 22.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: incomplete lupus, morbid obesity, hypertension, anemia, and uveitis. (Id.) The ALJ concluded at step three that the impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed impairment. See C.F.R. Par 404, Subpt. P, App. 1; (R. 23.)

         Before step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, subject to the following limitations: she can lift or carry twenty pounds only rarely, which the ALJ defines as no more than ten percent of the workday, but can lift or carry up to fifteen pounds frequently; can stand or walk about four hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for about four hours, with normal breaks; can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and requires a cane for prolonged ambulation. (Id.) At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a check clerk (at a bank) and as a storage facility clerk. (R. 29.)

         The Social Security Administration Appeals Council then denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 23, 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. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005); (R. 8- 14.)



         Section 405(g) provides in relevant part that "[t]he 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). Judicial review of the ALJ's decision is limited to determining whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence or based upon legal error. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000); Stevenson v. Chater, 105 F.3d 1151, 1153 (7th Cir. 1997). 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, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971); Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). This Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner by reevaluating facts, reweighing evidence, resolving conflicts in evidence, or deciding questions of credibility. Skinner, 478 F.3d at 841; see also Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008) (holding that the ALJ's decision must be affirmed even if "reasonable minds could differ" as long as "the decision is adequately supported.") (internal citation omitted).

         The ALJ is not required to address "every piece of evidence or testimony in the record, [but] the ALJ's analysis must provide some glimpse into the reasoning behind her decision to deny benefits." Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001). In cases where the ALJ denies benefits to a plaintiff, "he must build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [her] conclusion." Clifford, 227 F.3d at 872. The ALJ must at least minimally articulate the "analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review." Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005); Murphy v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 630, 634 (7th Cir. 2007) ("An ALJ has a duty to fully develop the record before drawing any conclusions . . . and must adequately articulate his analysis so that we can follow his reasoning. . . ."); see Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005).

         We review the ALJ's decision but we play an "extremely limited" role. Elder, 529 F.3d at 413. Where conflicting evidence would allow reasonable minds to differ, the responsibility for determining whether a plaintiff is disabled falls upon the Commissioner, not the court. See Herr v. Sullivan, 912 F.2d 178, 181 (7th Cir. 1990). However, an ALJ may not "select and discuss only that evidence that favors his ultimate conclusion," but must instead consider all relevant evidence. Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994).

         II. ...

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