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Dawn Y. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Urbana Division

May 12, 2019

DAWN Y., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Dawn Y. seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Administration's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, the Court recommends that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (#17) be DENIED, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#19) be GRANTED, and the decision to deny benefits be affirmed.

         I. Background

         On May 13, 2014, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2014. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claims initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). During the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert.

         On May 1, 2017, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision. (R. 13-29.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, other and unspecified arthropathies, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and depression. (R. 15.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526). (R. 15.) Additionally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

Perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except the claimant can use her upper extremities to handle and finger on a frequent basis bilaterally. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds and can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. The claimant can never work at unprotected heights, never work around moving mechanical parts and can never operate a commercial motor vehicle. The claimant can tolerate moderate noise. The claimant is able to understand, carry out, remember and perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks but not at a production rate pace, but the claimant would attain all end of day goals. The claimant is limited to work that requires only simple, work-related decisions and she can adapt only to routine workplace changes. The claimant can frequently interact with supervisors, coworkers, and the general public.

(R. 18.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work as a bar owner, line worker and restaurant manager. (R. 27.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's ruling the Commissioner's final decision.

         II. Standard of Review

         The court reviews a decision denying benefits to determine only whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision. Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 811 (7th Cir. 2011). Substantial evidence means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Walker v. Berryhill, 900 F.3d 479, 482 (7th Cir. 2018) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). When reviewing the administrative record, the Court does not “reweigh the evidence or substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.” Chavez v. Berryhill, 895 F.3d 962, 968 (7th Cir. 2018).

         Stated differently, if reasonable minds could differ as to whether Plaintiff is disabled, the Court must uphold the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. Shideler v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 306, 310 (7th Cir. 2012). Importantly, “the ALJ must ‘build a logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion, but he need not provide a complete written evaluation of every piece of testimony and evidence.'” Id. (quoting Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005).

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff's Motion argues that the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinion evidence, and as a result that the ALJ's Decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff specifically criticizes the ALJ's analysis of Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist Dr. Chang and Licensed Clinical Social Worker Kenna Johnson.

         a. Dr. Chang

         Dr. Chang opined that Plaintiff had “severe depression and anxiety that can affect her focus.” (R. 1570.) He found that Plaintiff had mild limitations in her ability to understand and remember simple instructions and to carry out simple instructions. Id. He found Plaintiff had moderate limitations in her ability to make judgments on simple work-related decisions and to understand and remember complex instructions. Id. Finally, Dr. Chang found that Plaintiff had marked limitations in her ability to make judgments on complex work-related decisions, to interact ...

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