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Joanna H. v. Berryhill

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

May 20, 2019

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

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ERIC I. LONG, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Joanna H. 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 (#11) be DENIED, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#15) be GRANTED, and the decision to deny benefits be affirmed.

         I. Background

         On February 12, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning March 15, 2014. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claims initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). During the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from an impartial vocational expert (VE).

         On July 6, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (R. 15-25.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease and spondylosis of the lumbar spine status post laminectomy, osteoarthritis of the right knee, post arthroplasty of the left knee with patellar fracture, cervical spondylosis, and fibromyalgia. (R. 17.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff has the nonsevere impairments of status post bunionectomy, osteoarthritis of the right hand, and restless leg syndrome. (R. 17.) 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 A, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526). (R. 18.) Additionally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, and stoop; never kneel, crouch, or crawl; never climb ladder, ropes, or scaffolds. She cannot tolerate concentrated exposure to extreme cold or vibration, and she cannot work around unprotected heights, open flames, or dangerous and moving machinery.

(R. 19.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a customer service policy holder information clerk. (R. 24.) 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 argues that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's mental impairments, did not follow SSR 96-8p in determining Plaintiff's RFC, and improperly evaluated Plaintiff's subjective allegations of pain.

         a. Mental Impairments

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have a medically determinable mental impairment. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to subject Plaintiff's depression to the “special technique” outlined for assessing mental impairments and ...


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