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Hostutler v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois

July 24, 2019

NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          James E. Shadid, United States District Judge

         Now before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion (Doc. 11) for Summary Judgment, Defendant's Motion (Doc. 15) for Summary Judgment, and Magistrate Judge Eric Long's Report and Recommendation (Doc. 18) recommending that Plaintiff's Motion be denied, Defendant's Motion be granted, and the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits be affirmed. Plaintiff has filed an Objection (Doc. 19) to the Report and Recommendation. This Order follows.


         The facts of this case have been sufficiently detailed in the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (Doc. 18), and are recounted here in summary fashion. Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on February 12, 2015, alleging disability beginning March 15, 2014. A hearing was held by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) where Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied Plaintiff's claims both initially and upon reconsideration.

         On July 6, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding Plaintiff's severe impairments-degenerative disc disease and spondylosis of the lumbar spine status post laminectomy, osteoarthritis of the right knee, post arthroplasty of the left knee with patellar fracture, cervical spondylosis, and fibromyalgia-and nonsevere impairments-status post bunionectomy, osteoarthritis of the right hand, and restless leg syndrome-did not rise to the level of an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart A, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to do the following:

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, and stoop; never kneel, crouch, or crawl; never climb ladder, ropes, or scaffolds. She cannot tolerate concentrated exposure to extreme cold or vibration, and she cannot work around unprotected heights, open flames, or dangerous and moving machinery.

Doc. 18, at 2. The ALJ found Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a customer service policy holder information clerk. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's ruling the Commissioner's final decision. Id.

         Standard of Review

          When reviewing a decision to deny benefits, the Court “will uphold the Commissioner's decision if the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and supported his decision with substantial evidence.” Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 811 (7th Cir. 2011); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Castile v. Astrue, 617 F.3d 923, 926 (7th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations omitted). “When reviewing for substantial evidence, [the Court] do[es] not displace the ALJ's judgment by reconsidering facts or evidence or making credibility determinations.” Id. If reasonable minds could differ as to whether Plaintiff is disabled, the Court must uphold the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. Shideler v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 306, 310 (7th Cir. 2012).


         In her Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff argued that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's mental impairments, did not follow SSR 96-8p in determining Plaintiff's RFC, and improperly evaluated Plaintiff's subjective allegations of pain. Doc. 12.

         1. Mental Impairments

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have a medically determinable mental impairment. Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in this determination by failing to subject Plaintiff's depression to the “special technique” outlined for assessing mental impairments and by failing to evaluate the impact of Plaintiff's alleged impairments on her RFC. However, the Magistrate Judge noted that, in determining whether a claimant has a medically determinable mental impairment, the ALJ is instructed as follows:

Your impairment(s) must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities that can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. Therefore, a physical or mental impairment must be established by objective medical evidence from an acceptable medical source. We will not use your statement of ...

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