United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
Penny M. M. Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CLIFFORD J. PROUD, UNITD STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Penny M. M.
(Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the final agency
decision denying her application for Disability Insurance
Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
applied for DIB and SSI in April 2014, alleging a disability
onset date of November 30, 2013. (Tr. 199-200, 209-16). Her
application was denied at the initial level and again upon
reconsideration. (Tr. 95-96, 133-35). Plaintiff requested an
evidentiary hearing, which Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
Janice E. Barnes-Williams held on July 6, 2016. (Tr. 38-70).
The ALJ reached an unfavorable decision in October 2016. (Tr.
21-31). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final agency
decision. (Tr. 1-4). Plaintiff exhausted her administrative
remedies and filed a timely Complaint in this Court. (Doc.
Raised by Plaintiff
argues the ALJ failed to adequately evaluate how her
headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), obstructive sleep
apnea (OSA) and vertigo impacted the Residual Functional
Capacity (RFC) assessment.
qualify for SSI and/or DIB, a claimant must be disabled
within the meaning of the applicable statutes. For these
purposes, “disabled” 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. § 423(d)(1)(A).
“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
Barnes-Williams followed the five-step analytical framework
set forth above. She determined Plaintiff met the insured
status requirements through December 31, 2018 and had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 30,
2013. (Tr. 23). Plaintiff had severe impairments of
obstructive sleep apnea, diastolic dysfunction,
hypothyroidism, depression, anxiety, history of carpal tunnel
syndrome, bilateral wrist arthritis, right hip arthritis,
mild right shoulder arthritis and possible tendinosis,
dizziness/vertigo, obesity, headaches, including migraine
headaches, and a respiratory impairment. (Tr. 23).
Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal a listing
but she was limited to light work with additional
limitations. (Tr. 25-26). Plaintiff was unable to perform any
past relevant work based on this RFC. (Tr. 29). However, she
was able to perform other jobs that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 30). Accordingly, the
ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 30).
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.
completed her initial disability and function reports in
April 2014. She stated that her conditions caused severe pain
in her head, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea,
vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness, joint paint, joint
stiffness, joint swelling, numbness, tingling, chronic
fatigue, weakness, difficulty concentrating and focusing,
painful and frequent urination, bloating, chronic groin pain,
and chronic sinus pain. Plaintiff took medications for her
ailments, which resulted in dry mouth, drowsiness, and an
upset stomach. She could not sit, stand, walk, climb, lift,
carry, bend, kneel, squat, or reach for extended periods. She
had to frequently alternate positions and had difficulty
using her hands. She had problems sleeping at night and took
breaks and naps throughout the day. (Tr. 260). Plaintiff
could sit for two hours before needing to get up. She rested
for 10 to 15 minutes after any activity. (Tr. 270).
average day, Plaintiff woke up around 5:30 a.m. to let her
dogs outside then went back to bed until 11:00 a.m., when she
ate lunch. She watched television or read throughout the day,
took a shower, ate dinner, and went to bed around 9:00 p.m.
(Tr. 261). She had to sit down to get dressed to avoid
standing, wore slip-on shoes to avoid bending, avoided
clothing with buttons, snaps, and zippers, and wore pajamas
unless she had to go somewhere because she lacked motivation.
Plaintiff took short showers because she could not stand for
long periods. She avoided bending and had problems holding
onto the soap and ...