United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
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
Disabled Widow's Benefits (DWB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
applied for DIB and DWB in September 2014, alleging a
disability onset date of July 1, 2013. After holding an
evidentiary hearing, an ALJ denied the application on October
31, 2017. (Tr. 15-27). 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 issue:
The ALJ's analysis of plaintiff's subjective
complaints about her hands was erroneous because she relied
on a misinterpretation of imaging studies and ignored
qualify for DIB or DWB, 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, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (internal
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.
She determined that plaintiff had worked part-time but had
not worked continuously at the level of substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date. Plaintiff was insured
for DIB through December 31, 2020. To be eligible for DWB,
she had to have been disabled before the last day of the
“prescribed period;” that date was November 30,
found that plaintiff had severe impairments of fibromyalgia,
osteoarthritis, obesity, chronic fatigue syndrome, and
tachycardia, which did not meet or equal a listed impairment.
She also found that plaintiff's carpal tunnel syndrome
was not a severe impairment but noted that any limitations it
might cause had been considered in conjunction with the
assessment of osteoarthritis of her hands.
found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to do work at the light exertional level, with
nonexertional physical limitations consisting of (1)
occasional exposure to unprotected heights and hazardous
machinery; (2) no overhead reaching; and (3) only frequent,
i.e., up to 2/3 of the day, handling and fingering.
on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that
plaintiff was not able to do her past relevant work. However,
she 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 ...