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Roxanne R. v. Berryhill

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

June 17, 2019

ROXANNE R., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARY M. ROWLAND UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Roxanne R. filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and filed cross motions for summary judgment. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). For the reasons stated below, the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 31, 2014, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging that she became disabled on September 11, 2010 because of carpal tunnel syndrome and affective/ mood disorders. (R. at 82-83). Her claims were denied initially on February 9, 2015 and upon reconsideration on August 6, 2015, after which Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (Id. at 82-83, 114-15, 169-70). Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on March 15, 2017. (Id. at 12-57). The ALJ also heard testimony from Jacqueline Bethell, a vocational expert (VE). (Id.).

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 21, 2017. (R. at 116-44). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 1, 2010, her alleged disability onset date. (Id. at 123). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical degenerative disc disease, and depression alternatively diagnosed as bipolar disorder was a severe impairment. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any of the listings enumerated in the regulations. (Id.).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[2] and determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§404.1567(b) except with the following limitations:

[S]he can occasionally reach overhead with her non-dominant left upper extremity, and she can frequently, but not continuously, engage in fine or gross manipulation with her non-dominant left hand. She is limited to performing simple, routine, repetitive tasks, and can make simple work-related decisions. The claimant can tolerate only occasional changes in the work setting. She can tolerate only occasional interaction with supervisors or co-workers, and should avoid all contact with the public. The claimant cannot engage in tandem tasks.

(R. at 126). The ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a cap lining machine operator. (Id. at 137). In the alternative, at step five, based on Plaintiff's RFC, her vocational factors, and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the local economy that Plaintiff also can perform, including housekeeper/ cleaner, office helper, and mail clerk. (Id. at 137-38). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined by the Act, from the alleged onset date through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 139).

         On June 11, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 1-6). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A court reviewing the Commissioner's final decision may not engage in its own analysis of whether the plaintiff is severely impaired as defined by the Social Security Regulations. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Nor may it “reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, decide questions of credibility, or, in general, substitute [its] own judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Id. The Court's task is “limited to determining whether the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence.” Id. (citing § 405(g)). Evidence is considered substantial “if a reasonable person would accept it as adequate to support a conclusion.” Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 473 (7th Cir. 2004); see Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1120-21 (7th Cir. 2014) (“We will uphold the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence, that is, such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”) (citation omitted). “Substantial evidence must be more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). “In addition to relying on substantial evidence, the ALJ must also explain his 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).

         Although this Court accords great deference to the ALJ's determination, it “must do more than merely rubber stamp the ALJ's decision.” Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). “This deferential standard of review is weighted in favor of upholding the ALJ's decision, but it does not mean that we scour the record for supportive evidence or rack our brains for reasons to uphold the ALJ's decision. Rather, the ALJ must identify the relevant evidence and build a ‘logical bridge' between that evidence and the ultimate determination.” Moon v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 718, 721 (7th Cir. 2014). Where the Commissioner's decision “lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, the case must be remanded.” Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff's sole basis for remand is that the ALJ improperly relied upon the VE's testimony in finding that Plaintiff can perform her past work at step four and other jobs at step five. (Dkt. 17 at 2-3). After reviewing the record and the parties' briefs, the Court agrees that the ALJ erred by failing to properly address conflicts between the ...


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