United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
TRISHA D. R.,  Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
G. WILKERSON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff seeks
judicial review of the final agency decision denying her
application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 423.
applied for DIB and SSI in September 2014, alleging a
disability onset date of July 11, 2013. After holding an
evidentiary hearing, an ALJ denied the application on August
11, 2017. (Tr. 32-47). The Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's
decision the final agency decision. (Tr. 1). Plaintiff
exhausted her administrative remedies and filed a timely
complaint with this Court.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following points:
1. The ALJ erred in finding that plaintiff's epilepsy and
narcolepsy with cataplectic spells did not meet the
requirements of Listings 11.02A and 11.02B.
2. The ALJ erred in accepting the state agency reviewers'
opinions and in rejecting the opinion of Dr. Alam, her
qualify for DIB or SSI, a claimant must be disabled within
the meaning of the applicable statutes. Under the Social
Security Act, a person is disabled if she has an
“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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
determine whether a plaintiff is disabled, the ALJ considers
the following five questions in order: (1) Is the plaintiff
presently unemployed? (2) Does the plaintiff have a severe
impairment? (3) Does the impairment meet or medically equal
one of a list of specific impairments enumerated in the
regulations? (4) Is the plaintiff unable to perform her
former occupation? and (5) Is the plaintiff unable to perform
any other work? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
affirmative answer at either step 3 or step 5 leads to a
finding that the plaintiff is disabled. A negative answer at
any step, other than at step 3, precludes a finding of
disability. The plaintiff bears the burden of proof at steps
1-4. Once the plaintiff shows an inability to perform past
work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to show the
plaintiff's ability to engage in other work existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001).
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.
Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539
(7th Cir. 2003). 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.” Biestek v.
Berryhill, 2019 WL 1428885, at *3 ( S.Ct. Apr. 1, 2019)
(internal citations omitted).
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. Burmester v.
Berryhill, 920 F.3d 507, 510 (7th Cir. 2019).
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 cited therein.
Decision of the ALJ
followed the five-step analytical framework described above.
He determined that plaintiff had not worked at the level of
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
She was insured for DIB through December 31,
2016. The ALJ found that plaintiff had severe
impairments of narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea,
epilepsy/catalepsy, polycystic ovarian syndrome, depression,
and anxiety disorder. The ALJ concluded that these
impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment.
found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to do work at all exertional levels, with nonexertional
physical limitations consisting of (1) no climbing of
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (2) only occasional climbing of
ramps and stairs; (3) no operation of motor vehicles; and (4)
avoiding exposure to unprotected heights and even moderate
exposure to hazards such as moving machinery or open flames.
He also assessed mental limitations which are not in issue.
found that plaintiff could not do her past relevant work as a
janitor or switchboard operator. Based on the testimony of a
vocational expert, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not
disabled because she was able to do other jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy.
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. As plaintiff's points relate only to
her epilepsy/narcolepsy, the Court will focus on that
was born in 1977 and was 39 years old on the date of the
ALJ's decision. (Tr. 263). She said she was disabled
because of narcolepsy, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and
depression. She was 5'6” tall and weighed 228
pounds. She said she was let go from her last job in July
2013 because she took naps on the job. She had completed four
years of college and had worked as a janitor and a
switchboard operator. (Tr. 267-268).
December 2014, plaintiff reported that she could not get a
job “because of the cataplexy and falling
asleep.” (Tr. 277).
mother and “adopted aunt” submitted function
reports, but neither report described plaintiff's
seizures. (Tr. 300-307, 335-343).
was represented by an attorney at the hearing in May 2017.
lived with her husband. (Tr. 68). She said she did no
household chores because she had no energy due to narcolepsy.
testified that the primary reason that she could not work was
that she had seizures. She had had seizures off and on since
she was a child, but they had gotten worse over the last
three years. She took Keppra, which helped, but she still had
two or three seizures a month. She had been having two or
three seizures a month for the past three years. She
estimated that her seizures lasted six minutes. She felt
tired and had a bad headache after a seizure. (Tr. 70-71).
also had cataplexic attacks as a side effect of narcolepsy.
She described these attacks as “my emotion[s] or my
anxiety gets up [and] I [lose] all muscle control and will fall,
can't keep my eyes open, can't keep by head up,
can't speak, and it can last anywhere from 10 to 20
minutes.” She was conscious during these attacks. (Tr.
Alam completed a medical source statement for her. She then
went back to him and asked him to reconsider his answer to
question number 14 because it “contradicted” his
answers to other questions. He looked back at her statements
in her medical ...