United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
CARLOTA R.M. Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. Harjani, United States Magistrate Judge.
Carlota R.M. seeks judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her
application for Disability Insurance Benefits. Carlota asks
the Court to reverse and remand the ALJ's decision, and
the Commissioner moves for its affirmance. For the reasons
set forth below, the ALJ's decision is reversed and this
case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this
Memorandum Opinion and Order.
claim for disability includes alleged impairments of anxiety,
arthritis, severe back pain, depression, diabetes,
hypertension, and carpal tunnel syndrome. R. 68. Carlota
claims that she has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since her impairment's alleged onset date of
June 22, 2013. R. 69.
the Administration's five-step analysis used to evaluate
disability, the ALJ found that Carlota had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her application date (step
one) and that she had the severe impairments of degenerative
disc disease, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, scoliosis,
obesity, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, and anxiety
(step two). R. 17. At step three, the ALJ determined that she
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairment. See 20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.125, and
404.1526. R. 18. At step four, the ALJ concluded that Carlota
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
the claimant could frequently climb ramps/stairs and crouch
and occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, stoop, or
crawl. She can frequently use either upper extremity for fine
or gross manipulation. The claimant lacks the ability to
understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions
because of moderate limitations in concentration, but retains
the sustained concentration necessary for simple work of a
routine type if given normal workplace breaks, meaning two
15-minute breaks after two hours of work and a 30-inute break
mid-shift. The claimant would be unable to maintain assemble
line or production pace employment because of moderate
limitations in pace, but maintains the ability to perform
work permitting a more flexible pace. The claimant should
experience no more than occasional changes in the work
R. 21. Given this RFC, the ALJ determined that Carlota was
able to perform her past relevant work as a housekeeper and
cleaner. R. 25. Thus, the ALJ determined that Carlota was not
disabled under 20 CFR 404.1520(f). R. 27.
11, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Carlota's request
for review, leaving the ALJ's March 15, 2017 decision as
the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 1; See
O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th
the Social Security Act, disability is defined as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of a 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.
§ 423(d)(1)(a). To determine whether a claimant is
disabled, the ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry: (1) whether
the claimant is currently unemployed; (2) whether the
claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the
claimant's impairment meets or equals any of the listings
found in the regulations, see 20 C.F.R. § 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1 (2004); (4) whether the claimant is unable
to perform his former occupation; and (5) whether the
claimant is unable to perform any other available work in
light of his age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d
863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000). These steps are to be performed
sequentially. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). “An
affirmative answer leads either to the next step, or, on
Steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is disabled. A
negative answer at any point, other than Step 3, ends the
inquiry and leads to a determination that a claimant is not
disabled.” Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868 (quoting
Zalewski v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 160, 162 n.2 (7th Cir.
review of the ALJ's decision is limited to determining
whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial
evidence or based upon a legal error. Steele v.
Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002). 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).
“Although this is a generous standard, it is not
entirely uncritical.” Steele, 290 F.3d at 940.
Where the Commissioner's decision “lacks
evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent
meaningful review, the case must be remanded.”
Id. In its substantial evidence review, the Court
considers the entire administrative record but does not
“reweigh the evidence, resolve conflicts, decide
questions of credibility, or substitute [its] own judgment
for that of the Commissioner.” Clifford, 227
F.3d at 869. Finally, an ALJ's evaluation of a
claimant's subjective symptoms will be upheld unless it
is “patently wrong.” McHenry v.
Berryhill, 911 F.3d 866, 873 (7th Cir. 2018).
denied Carlota's claim at step four of the sequential
evaluation process, finding that she retains the RFC to
perform her past work as a housekeeper and cleaner. Carlota
challenges the ALJ's RFC determination on several
Treating Physician Dr. Didenko
leading argument is that the ALJ erred in discounting
treating physician Dr. Taras Didenko's medical opinion
down to little weight. The treating-physician rule directs
the ALJ to “consider all” of the
following factors in weighing “any medical
opinion”: (1) the length of treatment; (2) the nature
and extent of the treatment relationship; (3) the
supportability of the medical opinion; (4) the consistency of
the opinion with the record as a whole; (5) the
physician's degree of specialization; and (6) other
factors supporting or contradicting the opinion. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(c) (emphasis added). The checklist factors
are designed to help the ALJ “decide how much weight to
give to the treating physician's evidence.”
Bauer v. Astrue, 532 F.3d 606, 608 (7th Cir. 2008).
The treating physician's medical opinion is entitled to
“controlling weight” if the opinion is (i)
“well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques” and if it is (ii)
“not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence
in [the] case.” Id. An ALJ's failure to
explicitly apply the checklist can be grounds for remand.
See, e.g., Yurt v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 850,
860 (7th Cir. 2014) (“in addition to summarizing [the
treating physician's] visits and describing their
treatment notes, the ALJ should explicitly consider the
details of the treatment relationship and provide reasons for
the weight given to their opinions”); Campbell v.
Astrue, 627 F.3d 299 (7th Cir. 2010) (“the
decision does not explicitly address the checklist of factors
as applied to the medical opinion evidence.”);
Larson v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 744, 751 (7th Cir. 2010)
(remanding where the ALJ's decision “said nothing
regarding this required checklist of factors.”);
Wallace v. Colvin, 193 F.Supp.3d 939, 947 (N.D. Ill.
2016) (“the ALJ did not explicitly apply the checklist.
In this Court's view, that failure alone is a ground for
a remand.”). Nevertheless, the ...