United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
ADRIAN Z. Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMDORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JOHNSON COLEMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
the Court is Adrian Z.'s motion to reverse the
Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny
Adrian's request for disability insurance benefits.
Adrian seeks reversal of the Administrative Law Judge's
determination that he is not disabled and entitled to
benefits. For the reasons stated herein, the Court affirms
the agency's decision.
was born in 1982 and was 30 years old at the onset date.
Adrian filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on
June 13, 2013, alleging disability beginning May 31, 2013.
These claims were initially denied on July 14, 2014, and
reconsideration was denied on April 24, 2015. Adrian
subsequently requested a hearing, which was held on February
25, 2016, before ALJ Kevin Plunkett. Adrian was present and
represented by Brianne Stricoff. Also present were Sara
Gibson, an impartial vocational expert, and Marcus Ingram,
Adrian's therapist. On April 5, 2016, Plunkett issued his
decision denying Adrian's application. On April 14, 2017,
the Appeals Council denied Adrian's request for review,
rendering the ALJ's decision the final determination of
the Commissioner. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g)
and 1383(c), Adrian filed the complaint for judicial review
now before this Court.
Court will reverse the Commissioner's finding only if it
is not supported by substantial evidence or is the result of
a legal error. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336
F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). Substantial evidence means
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Pepper
v. Colvin, 712 F.3d 351, 361-62 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)). Although this Court reviews the
record as a whole, it cannot “substitute its own
judgment for that of the SSA by reevaluating the facts, or
reweighing the evidence to decide whether a claimant is in
fact disabled.” Jens v. Barnhart, 347 F.3d
209, 212 (7th Cir. 2003); Cass v. Shalala, 8 F.3d
552, 555 (7th Cir. 1993).
rendering a decision, the ALJ must build a logical bridge
from the evidence to his conclusion. Steele v.
Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 941 (7th Cir. 2002). “The
ALJ need not, however, provide a ‘complete written
evaluation of every piece of testimony and
evidence.'” Hanyes v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d
621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Diaz v. Chater, 55
F.3d 300, 308 (7th Cir. 1995)). The ALJ “may not select
and discuss only that evidence that favors his ultimate
conclusion, ” Diaz, 55 F.3d at 308, but
“must confront the evidence that does not support his
conclusion and explain why it was rejected.”
Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 474 (7th Cir.
person is disabled under the Social Security Act if he
“is unable 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.
§ 1382(c)(a)(3)(C)(I). The Social Security
Administration has set forth a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether an individual is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(a). This evaluation considers
“(1) whether the claimant is currently employed, (2)
whether the claimant has a severe impairment, (3) whether the
claimant's impairment is one that the Commissioner
considers conclusively disabling, (4) if the claimant does
not have a conclusively disabling impairment, whether he can
perform past relevant work, and (5) whether the claimant is
capable of performing any work in the national
economy.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171,
1176 (7th Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R. 404.1520.
makes three arguments for reversal of the ALJ's
determination that he was not disabled. First, Adrian argues
that the ALJ's decision to give discounted weight to the
testimony of Ingram and Dr. Valluripalli was not supported by
substantial evidence. Second, Adrian contends that the
ALJ's residual functional capacity assessment was not
supported by substantial evidence. Third, Adrian contends
that the ALJ's evaluation of his subjective symptoms was
legally insufficient. The Court takes each argument in turn.
contends that the ALJ erred by failing to give controlling
weight to Dr. Valluripalli and Ingram's testimony about
Adrian's diagnoses and resulting limitations. A treating
physician's opinion regarding the nature and severity of
a medical condition is entitled to controlling weight if
supported by the medical findings and consistent with
substantial evidence in the record. Gudgel v.
Barnhart, 345 F.3d 467, 470 (7th Cir. 2003); 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(d)(2). When an ALJ declines to give
controlling weight to a treating physician's opinion, he
must provide a sound explanation for the rejection.
Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 811 (7th Cir.
2010). Nonetheless, courts uphold “all but the most
patently erroneous reasons for discounting a treating
physician's assessment.” Dixon v.
Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1177 (7th Cir. 2001).
the ALJ had before him the opinions of three treating
psychiatrists, Dr. Carreira, Dr. Puszkarski, and Dr.
Valluripalli. Doctors Carreira and Puszkarski treated Adrian
from May 2013 through March 2015, and consistently concluded
that Adrian had only mild to moderate mental symptoms or
functioning. Dr. Valluripalli first treated Adrian in
September 2015 and appears to have seen him only a handful of
times before submitting a one-page letter stating his
opinions as to Adrian's mental health. That letter,
however, was not specific and appears to have drawn many of
its conclusions from Adrian's medical history and
self-reports rather than a course of diagnosis and treatment.
argues that the ALJ erred in giving little weight to Dr.
Valluripalli's opinion that Adrian's mental disorders
resulted from a childhood traumatic brain injury or
subsequent seizures. Dr. Valluripalli, however, offered no
medical evidence to support his speculative theory, and thus
his opinion on this matter was not entitled to controlling
weight. Neither does the record evidence that Adrian now
cites lend significant support to Dr. Valluripalli's
opinion. The record contains medical records from Lutheran
General Hospital describing a 1993 or 1994 operation
performed on Adrian after a motor vehicle accident (R.
444-445). However, that surgery record contains no references
to a traumatic brain injury or seizures. The record also
contains 1990 test results showing non-specific slowing in
the front of Adrian's brain and learning disabilities,
but those results contain no indication of causation. (R.
further appears to contend that the ALJ should have
considered Dr. Valluripalli's letter to the extent it
identified conditions and symptoms which would logically
impair functionality. The ALJ did consider Dr.
Valluripalli's representations as to Adrian's mental
health when establishing Adrian's mental health history,
despite the fact that the symptoms described appear to have
been predominantly established through self-report rather
than established diagnostic methods. Dr. Valluripalli's
letter failed to offer any opinion about Adrian's ability
to work or propose any work-related restrictions, and the ALJ
was therefore well within his rights to conclude that it did
not identify specific functional limitations. In light of Dr.