United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
AMENDED MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey T. Gilbert United States Magistrate Judge.
Charita W. (''Claimant") seeks review of the
final decision of Respondent Nancy Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security ("the
Commissioner"), denying Claimant's applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles
II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act
("Act"). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and
Local Rule 73.1, the parties have consented to the
jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge for all
proceedings including final judgment. [ECF No. 6]. The
parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment [ECF
Nos. 12 and 26] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
56. For the reasons stated below, Claimant's Motion for
Summary Judgment [ECF No. 12] is granted, and the
Commissioner's Motion [ECF No. 26] is denied. This matter
is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this
Amended Memorandum Order and Opinion.
filed applications for DIB and SSI on October 10, 2013,
alleging a disability onset date of June 10, 2013. (R. 144.)
The applications initially were denied on February 24, 2014
(R. 167) and upon reconsideration on October 29, 2014
(177-84), after which Claimant requested an administrative
hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALP').
(R. 185.) On May 26, 2016, Claimant, represented by counsel,
appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law
Judge ("ALJ") Luke Woltering. (R. 144.) Claimant
also appeared and testified at a supplemental hearing on
October 4, 2016. (Id.) The ALJ heard testimony at
the supplemental hearing from impartial medical expert
("ME") Dr. Hugh Savage and vocational expert
("VE") Cheryl R. Hoiseth. (Id.)
January 12, 2017, the ALJ granted Claimant's applications
for DIB and SSI finding Claimant was disabled as of August
11, 2016, but not prior to that date. (R. 144-60.) The
opinion followed the five-step evaluation process required by
the Social Security Regulations
("SSRs").20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the
ALJ found that Claimant had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity ("SGA") since Claimant's
alleged onset date of June 10, 2013. (R. 146.) The ALJ noted
that there was evidence Claimant had engaged in some work
activity since the alleged onset date. (R. 147.) At step two,
the ALJ found Claimant had the severe impairments of
hypertension, cardiovascular accident, syncope, neuropathy in
feet, left shoulder separation, reduced hearing in the left
ear, depression, and personality disorder. (Id.) The
ALJ also found Claimant had the non- severe impairment of a
broken toe on the right foot. (Id.) At step three,
the ALJ found that since the alleged disability onset date of
June 10, 2013, Claimant did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of the one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and
416.920(d)). (Id.) The ALJ then assessed
Claimant's residual functional capacity
("RFC") and concluded:
Claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except: The Claimant can never
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can never crawl or
kneel. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. She can
frequently balance, stoop, and crouch. She can frequently
reach overhead, handle, finger, feel, push, and pull with the
bilateral upper extremities. She can operate foot controls
frequently with the right lower extremity and occasionally
with the left lower extremity. The Claimant can work in no
more than moderate noise environments. She can never work
around hazards, such as unprotected heights and exposed
moving mechanical parts. She can understand, remember, and
carry out simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. The Claimant
needs to work in a low pressure and low stress work
environment defined as one requiring only occasional and
simple, work-related decision-making, adjustment to no more
than occasional changes in a routine work setting. The
Claimant can never work at a production rate pace, such as
assembly line work.
(R. 150.) Based on this RFC, the ALJ determined at step four
that Claimant could not perform any past relevant work. (R.
at step five, the ALJ found, prior to August 11, 2016 - which
is the date Claimant's age category changed from being
"a younger individual age 45-49" to "an
individual closely approaching advanced age" - there
were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national
economy that Claimant could perform. (R. 158.) Specifically,
the ALJ found Claimant could work as an information clerk
(DOT #237.367-046), an order clerk (DOT #209.567-014), and a
document preparer (DOT #209.587-018). (R. 159.) The ALJ then
found that beginning on August 11, 2016, based on
Claimant's changed age category, education, work
experience, and RFC, there were no jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy Claimant could
perform. (Id.) Because of this determination, the
ALJ found Claimant was not disabled prior to August 11, 2016,
but became disabled on that date and has continued to be
disabled. (R. 159.) The Appeals Council declined to review
the matter on January 11, 2018, making the ALJ's decision
the final decision of the Commissioner, and therefore,
reviewable by this Court under 442 U.S.C. § 405(g).
See Haynes v. Baumhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
decision by an ALJ becomes the Commissioner's final
decision if the Appeals Council denies a request for review.
Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000). Under
such circumstances, the district court reviews the decision
of the ALJ. (Id.) Judicial review is limited to
determining whether the decision is supported by substantial
evidence in the record and whether the ALJ applied the
correct legal standards in reaching his or her decision.
Nelms v. Aslrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir.
2009). The reviewing court may enter a judgment
"affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the
[Commissioner], with or without remanding the cause for a
rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."
Richardson v. Perales, 42 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). A
"mere scintilla" of evidence is not enough.
Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir.
2002). Even where there is adequate evidence in the record to
support the decision, the findings will not be upheld if the
ALJ does not "build an accurate and logical bridge from
the evidence to the conclusion." Berger v.
Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008). In other
words, if the Commissioner's decision lacks evidentiary
support or adequate discussion of the issues, it cannot
stand. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th
Cir. 2009). Though the standard of review is deferential, a
reviewing court must "conduct a critical review of the
evidence" before affirming the Commissioner's
decision. Eichstadt v. Astrue, 534 F.3d 663, 665
(7th Cir. 2008). It may not, however, "displace the
ALJ's judgment by reconsidering facts or evidence."
Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
appeal, Claimant asserts that the ALJ made three errors.
First, Claimant contends the ALJ improperly assessed
Claimant's RFC. Second, Claimant argues the ALJ
erroneously disregarded evidence of Claimant's mental
health condition. Third, Claimant asserts the ALJ's
finding that Claimant could perform other work was not
supported by substantial evidence.
Medical Opinion Evidence
Court first addresses Claimant's argument that the ALJ
erred in giving great weight to Dr. Savage's medical
opinion as a non-examining physician who did not review the
entirety of Claimant's medical records. [ECF No. 13], at
11. Courts in this Circuit repeatedly have criticized an
ALJ's decision to give great weight to a non-examining
physician who bases his decision on a fraction of a
claimant's medical records. See Meuser v.
Colvin,838 F.3d 905, 912 (7th Cir. 2016) (remanding
case where doctor did not examine patient and had "only
reviewed a fraction of [Claimant's] treatment records
that were available before [Claimant] submitted additional
evidence"); Goins v. Colvin,764 F.3d 677, 680
(7th Cir. ...