United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey Cole Magistrate Judge.
H. applied for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§416(i), 423, 1381a, 1382c, about five years ago.
(Administrative Record (R.) 174-86). She claimed that she
became disabled as of December 1, 2011, due to pain through
the right side of her body from an old automobile accident,
PTSD, high blood pressure, memory loss, overweight, and
lymphedema. (R. 213). Over the next few years,
plaintiff's application was denied at every level of
administrative review: initial, reconsideration,
administrative law judge (ALJ), and appeals council. It is
the ALJ's decision that is before the court for review.
See 20 C.F.R. §§404.955; 404.981. Plaintiff filed
suit under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the parties consented
to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c) on September 9, 2017. [Dkt. #9]. The
case was reassigned to me on October 12, 2018 (R. 43), and
the parties finished briefing the matter on February 11,
2019. [Dkt. #55]. Plaintiff asks the court to reverse and
remand the Commissioner's decision, while the
Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision.
is not yet 40 years old, and was just 32 years old when she
claimed she could never work again. (R. 209). She has a spotty
work history, and from 2002 to 2011 had ten different jobs,
holding on to most for no more than a few months. (R. 237).
Most recently, she worked in customer service and as a
nurse's aid. (R. 26, 237). At 5'6" tall and
about 410 pounds, she is massively overweight with a BMI
generally over 70. (R. 25).
has accumulated an 800-page medical record covering treatment
for a variety of impairments and maladies. (R. 289-1087). As
is often the case, much of it is irrelevant. Indeed,
plaintiff cites only about 30 pages of the medical record in
support of her motion to overturn the ALJ's decision.
[Dkt. # 42]. Accordingly, we shall dispense with a tedious
summary and discuss only those doctor visits and medical
findings that are pertinent to the issues in this case.
an administrative hearing - at which plaintiff, represented
by counsel, and a vocational expert testified - the ALJ
determined plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ found that
plaintiff had several severe impairments: “fractures of
UE, hypertensive vascular disease, obesity, chronic venous
insufficiency, and anxiety disorder and morbid
obesity.” (R. 22). The ALJ also noted that plaintiff
had a meniscus tear that was not a severe impairment, but
said he considered it in combination with plaintiff's
other impairments. (R. 22). The ALJ found that none of
plaintiff's impairments, singly or in combination,
amounted to a condition that met or equaled an impairment
assumed to be disabling in the Commissioner's listings,
explaining that counsel “did not argue and therefore
waived per se theory of disability, at step-3, of the
sequential evaluation process.” (R. 23). Nevertheless,
the ALJ then summarized plaintiff's testimony and
treatment records from Dr, Rivera and considered listings
1.07 and 12.06. (R. 23-24).
set forth a somewhat confusing residual functional capacity
finding, determining that plaintiff could perform
“sedentary work . . . except [sic] lift up to 10
pounds, sit for up to six hours and stand/walk about 2 hours
in 8-hour workday with normal breaks, no climbing ropes,
ladders and scaffolds, occasionally climbing ramps and
stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crawling, crouch, simple,
routine repetitive tasks, in a work environment free of fast
paced production requirements, involving only simple work
related decisions with few if any work place change [sic],
only occasional interaction with public, co-workers, and
supervisors[.]” (R. 24-25). The ALJ then stated that
plaintiff's “subjective complaints are not shown to
persist in such an intense fashion per the record.” (R.
25). The ALJ discussed a number of medical records that
showed mostly benign findings, including a treating medical
source opinion that showed “full capacity with ability
to perform activities of daily living, able to walk, stoop,
bend, sit, turn, climb, push, pull and travel, no problems
noted with fine or gross manipulation, mild limitations with
social functioning and no limitations with
concentration.” (R. 25). The ALJ then noted that his
RFC (residual functional capacity) finding was similar to the
findings of the agency physicians who reviewed the medical
evidence. (R. 26).
the ALJ found that the plaintiff was a younger individual
under the Commissioner's regulations, had at least a high
school education and is able to communicate in English, and
had no transferable job skills. (R. 26). Given these
vocational factors, plaintiff would be found “not
disabled” under the Medical Vocational Guidelines if
she had the capacity to perform a full range of sedentary
work. (R. 27). As she did not, the ALJ relied on the
testimony of a vocational expert who said that an individual
with plaintiff's restrictions could perform sedentary
work as a sorter (198, 000 jobs in the national economy) or
assembler (230, 000 jobs). (R. 27). As these jobs exist in
significant numbers in the national economy, the ALJ
concluded that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act and
not entitled to DIB or SSI. (R. 27).
ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the
court on judicial review must uphold that decision even if
the court might have decided the case differently in the
first instance. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
Beardsley v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 834, 836 (7th Cir.
2014). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, the
court reviews the record as a whole, but does not attempt to
substitute its judgment for the ALJ's by reweighing the
evidence, resolving material conflicts, or reconsidering
facts or the credibility of witnesses. Beardsley,
758 F.3d at 837. “Where conflicting evidence allows
reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is
entitled to benefits, ” the court must defer to the
Commissioner's resolution of that conflict.
Schloesser v. Berryhill, 870 F.3d 712, 717 (7th Cir.
2017); Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th
the Seventh Circuit, the ALJ also has an obligation to build
what has been called a logical bridge between the evidence
and the result in order to afford the claimant meaningful
judicial review of the administrative findings. Varga v.
Colvin, 794 F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 2015);
O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618
(7th Cir.2010). The reviewing court must be able to trace the
path of the ALJ's reasoning from evidence to conclusion.
Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 938 (7th Cir.
2015); Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 812 (7th
Cir. 2011). Even if the court agrees with the ultimate
result, the case must be remanded if the ALJ fails in his or
her obligation to build that “logical bridge.” As
Judge Posner said in Sarchet v. Chater, 78 F.3d 305,
307 (7th Cir. 1996), in which the doctrine, as applied in
Social Security cases, originated: “we cannot uphold a
decision by an administrative agency, any more than we can
uphold a decision by a district court, if, while there is
enough evidence in the record to support the decision, the
reasons given by the trier of fact do not build an accurate
and logical bridge between the evidence and the
phrase “logical bridge, ” seems to have first
appeared in Thompson v. Clifford, 408 F.2d 154, 167
(D.C. Cir. 1968), where Judge Spottswood Robinson said in an
administrative case not involving Social Security that:
“ ‘Administrative determinations must have a
basis in law' and their force depends heavily on the
validity of the reasoning in the logical bridge between
statute and regulation.” Judge Posner then used the
phrase “logical bridge” in a Social Security case
merely to require Administrative Law Judges in those kinds of
cases to articulate the reasons for their decisions.
Sarchet, supra. But, Sarchet did
not heighten the burden of proof or inform ALJs in Social
Security cases of rules that had to be followed or tests that
had to be employed. The Seventh Circuit, itself, has called
the logical bridge requirement “lax.” Elder
v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 415 (7th Cir. 2008); Berger
v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 545 (7th Cir.2008).
plaintiff argues that the ALJ's step two and step three
determinations were erroneous, that he improperly discredited
her complaints of disabling pain, that his residual
functional capacity determination was erroneous, and that his
step four determination was erroneous. We shall address each
of plaintiff's arguments. But ...