United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
CELETA P. Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
David Weisman United States Magistrate Judge
P. brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for
judicial review of the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA's”) decision denying her application
for benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the Court
reverses the SSA's decision.
applied for benefits on September 26, 2014, alleging a
disability onset date of September 1, 2013. (R. 74.) Her
application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (R.
81, 91.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was held
on May 2, 2017. (R. 36-73.) In a decision dated July 27,
2017, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim. (R. 20-31.) The
Appeals Council declined review (R. 1-3), leaving the
ALJ's decision as the final decision of the SSA,
reviewable by this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
See Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th
Court reviews the ALJ's decision deferentially, affirming
if it is supported by “substantial evidence in the
record, ” i.e., “‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” White v. Sullivan,
965 F.2d 133, 136 (7th Cir. 1992) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). “Although this
standard is generous, it is not entirely uncritical, ”
and the case must be remanded if the “decision lacks
evidentiary support.” Steele v. Barnhart, 290
F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).
the Social Security Act, disability is defined as the
“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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). The regulations prescribe a five-part
sequential test for determining whether a claimant is
disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). The SSA
must consider whether: (1) the claimant has performed any
substantial gainful activity during the period for which she
claims disability; (2) the claimant has a severe impairment
or combination of impairments; (3) the claimant's
impairment meets or equals any listed impairment; (4) the
claimant retains the residual functional capacity to perform
her past relevant work; and (5) the claimant is able to
perform any other work existing in significant numbers in the
national economy. Id.; Zurawski v. Halter,
245 F.3d 881, 885 (7th Cir. 2001).
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her application date. (R.
22.) At step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the
severe impairments of “diabetes mellitus with diabetic
peripheral neuropathy; overactive bladder; hypertension;
dyslipidemia; and smoker.” (Id.) At step
three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments do not
meet or medically equal the severity of a listed impairment.
(R. 23.) At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff has no
past relevant work but has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work with certain
exceptions. (R. 23, 30.) At step five, the ALJ found that
jobs exist in significant numbers that plaintiff can perform,
and thus she is not disabled. (R. 30-31.)
contends that the RFC determination is faulty. In relevant
part, the RFC provides that plaintiff can “perform
light work . . . except that she [can] stand/walk 6 hours in
an 8-hour workday but only one hour at a time” and can
“sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, but only one
hour at a time.” (R. 23.) Plaintiff contends that there
is no evidentiary basis for these limitations. The Court
acknowledged that evidence “submitted at the hearing
level” showed “some positive clinical signs
consistent with peripheral neuropathy, ” and asserted that
the RFC limitations on sitting, standing, and walking
addressed that condition. (R. 28.) However, the only doctors
who endorsed those limitations were the state agency
consultants, whose opinions were rendered before the hearing
and were, for that reason, rejected by the ALJ. (Id.
(giving “little weight” to one consultant's
opinion and “partial weight” to another
consultant's opinion because additional medical evidence
presented at the hearing supported further reducing
plaintiff's RFC).) The ALJ's medical expert, Dr.
Stein, testified that plaintiff could stand continuously for
four hours of an eight-hour workday. (R. 57.) Though the ALJ
noted that Dr. Stein had “unique insight” into
plaintiff's condition, he nonetheless rejected without
explanation Dr. Stein's standing/walking limitation. (R.
23, 28-29.) Having disregarded all of the medical opinions
the ALJ was required to identify other evidence that supports
the limitations in the RFC. SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *7
(July 2, 1996) (“The RFC assessment must include a
narrative discussion describing how the evidence supports
each conclusion, citing specific medical facts (e.g.,
laboratory findings) and nonmedical evidence (e.g., daily
activities, observations)”). His failure to do so
warrants a remand. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v.
Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 352 (7th Cir. 2005)
(“Contrary to SSR 96-8p, however, the ALJ did not
explain how he arrived at the conclusions [about the
claimant's RFC]; this omission in itself is sufficient to
warrant reversal of the ALJ's decision.”).
defends the adequacy of the RFC assessment by reciting
unenlightening truisms such as “[t]he responsibility
for assessing [plaintiffs] RFC was the ALJ's
alone.” (Def's Br. at 4.) While true, that
assignment of responsibility does not necessarily make the
ALJ's decision correct. The issue here is that we are at
a loss as to how the ALJ reached his conclusion as to the
RFC, and the SSA's defense of the ALJ's decision is
equally amorphous on this crucial point.
reasons set forth above, the Court reverses the SSA's
decision and remands this case for further proceedings
consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.