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Lawrence P. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

August 5, 2019

LAWRENCE P., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          Mary M. Rowland United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Lawrence P.[2] filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under the Social Security Act (the Act). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 636(c). For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment [22] and denies Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [15]. The Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on May 20, 2014, alleging that he became disabled on January 14, 2011. (R. at 18). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 135- 37). On May 12, 2017, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 884-911). The ALJ also heard testimony from Tammie C. Donaldson, a vocational expert (VE). (Id. at 906). The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on August 23, 2017. (Id. at 18-31). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of January 14, 2011. (Id. at 21). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of morbid obesity and asthma. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of any of the enumerated listings in the regulations. (Id. at 22). The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[3] and determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform medium work[4], except:

[He] can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. He can occasionally balance, kneel or crawl. In addition, the claimant can tolerate occasional exposure to extremes of temperature and fumes, odors, dusts or gases. He can tolerate occasional exposure to hazards.

(Id. at 22). Based on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 29). However the ALJ concluded that considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the Plaintiff can perform. (Id. at 30). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined by the Act, from the alleged onset date of January 14, 2011 through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 31). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 3, 2018. (Id. at 1-6). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).


         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is authorized by § 405(g) of the Social Security Administration (SSA). 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court may not engage in its own analysis of whether the plaintiff is disabled nor may it “reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, decide questions of credibility, or, in general, substitute [its] own judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). The Court's task is “limited to determining whether the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence.” Id. Substantial evidence “must be more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). In addition, the ALJ must “explain his analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review.” Scrogham v. Colvin, 765 F.3d 685, 695 (7th Cir. 2014) (internal quotations and citation omitted).

         Therefore, “[w]e will uphold the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence, that is, such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Moore v. Colvin, 1120-21 (7th Cir. 2014) (internal quotations and citation omitted). The court “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.” Stephens v. Berryhill, 888 F.3d 323, 327 (7th Cir. 2018). “[I]f reasonable minds can differ over whether the applicant is disabled, we must uphold the decision under review.” Shideler v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 306, 310 (7th Cir. 2012). See also Moon v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 718, 721 (7th Cir. 2014) (standard of review is deferential).


         In his request for reversal or remand, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in her assessment of the treating source opinion, medical evidence, and Plaintiff's hearing testimony. Plaintiff contends the ALJ should have found him capable of only sedentary work and in addition, failed to develop the record. The Court finds the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence.[5]

         A. ALJ Did Not Err in Giving No. Weight to the Treating Doctor Opinion

         On March 13, 2017, internist Dr. Jaskaran Sethi, Plaintiff's treating doctor, completed a two-page physical capacities evaluation form.[6] (R. at 880-82). In the evaluation, Dr. Sethi marked the box next to “sedentary” to indicate Plaintiff's work capacity. The ALJ gave no weight to this assessment. (R. at 29). This was not error. The ALJ gave good reasons for discounting Dr. Sethi's opinion.

         “A treating physician's opinion regarding the nature and severity of a medical condition is entitled to controlling weight if it is well supported by medical findings and not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record.” Stephens, 888 F.3d at 328 (emphasis added) (internal citations and quotations omitted). An ALJ may give less than controlling weight “to medical opinions based on subjective reports.” Britt v. Berryhill, 889 F.3d 422, 426 (7th Cir. 2018).[7]

         Contrary to Plaintiff's assertion (Dkt. 16 at 11), and as discussed below, the ALJ sufficiently addressed the regulatory factors in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c). She did not need to specifically discuss each one. The Seventh Circuit has stated that “[i]n weighing a treating physician's opinion, an ALJ must consider the factors found in 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c), but need only ‘minimally articulate' his reasoning; the ALJ need not explicitly discuss and weigh each factor.” Collins v. Berryhill, 743 Fed.Appx. 21, 25 (7th Cir. 2018) (emphasis added).

         The ALJ acknowledged Dr. Sethi was Plaintiff's internist but gave several reasons why she discounted his opinion: (1) it was based on subjective complaints; (2) it was inconsistent with treatment notes; (3) Plaintiff's conditions were controlled and/or being treated; (4) Plaintiff did not report any complaints about his arms to his doctor; (5) Plaintiff was instructed to engage in daily aerobic ...

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