United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey Cole Magistrate Judge
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act
(“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423,
about five years ago. (Administrative Record (R.) 165-67).
She claimed that she became disabled as of August 1, 2013 (R.
165, 191), due to a lower back impairment, diabetes with
neuropathy, hypertension, and poor vision. (R. 194). Over the
ensuing three 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. Â§Â§ 404.955; 404.981.
Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. Â§ 405(g), and the
parties consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Â§ 636(c) on February 6, 2018. [Dkt.
#7]. The case was reassigned to me about a year later on
January 10, 2019. [Dkt. #22]. Plaintiff asks the court to
reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision, while the
Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision.
was born on February 10, 1955, and was 58 at the time she
claims he became unable to work, and 61 at the time of the
ALJ's decision. (R. 25, 165, 191). She has an excellent
work record, working as a cashier in large grocery stores
consistently for 25 years before her alleged onset date. (R.
203, 173-79). The job entailed being on one's feet all
day, as well as lifting up to 20 pounds and frequently
lifting 10 pounds. (R. 204-06). When she could no longer do
the work, due to her back pain - even with some accommodation
from her employer (R. 39-40), she quit and took a small early
pension of about $600 a month. (R. 49).
medical record covering plaintiff's treatment in this
case is of average length, nearly over 400 pages. (R.
293-670). As is generally the case, much of it is of little
utility in a disability benefits proceeding. The plaintiff
cites to fewer than 20 of those pages to support her claim
for benefits. [Dkt. #13, at 2-5]. The Commissioner refers to
about a dozen to bolster the ALJ's opinion. [Dkt. # 19].
So, a lengthy recounting of the evidence will not be
necessary. Suffice it to say that an MRI in July 2015
revealed moderate disc bulging and stenosis at L4-5, and mild
disc bulging and stenosis at L3-4 and L5-S1. (R. 594).
Positive straight raising shows that this comes with
radiculopathy. (R. 477). Clinical tests show that plaintiff
has decreased sensation in her hands and feet due to diabetic
neuropathy. (R. 364, 369, 370, 477). A psychologist who
examined the plaintiff at the Agency's request found she
suffered from a panic disorder and a “major depressive
disorder, mild.” (R. 483). The psychologist who
reviewed the medical record for the agency found that
plaintiff had a severe mental impairment. (R. 83).
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 a number of severe impairments: “obesity,
diabetes mellitus, peripheral neuropathy, hypertension and
degenerative disc disease.” (R. 18). The ALJ said the
plaintiff's anxiety and/or depression were not severe
impairments, dismissing the findings of the Agency's
consultative examiner and the reviewing psychologist. (R.
19). The ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments, either
singly or in combination, did not meet or equal a listed
impairment assumed to be disabling in the Commissioner's
listings, referring specifically to Listing 11.14 for
peripheral neuropathy and 1.04 for disorders of the spine.
determined that plaintiff could perform light work - lifting
up to 20 pounds with frequent lifting of up to 10 pounds and
unlimited standing and walking - with the following
no more than occasional climbing of ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds and no more than occasional stooping, crouching, or
crawling. Claimant is limited from jobs that require fine
distance perception . . . Claimant is not able to tolerate
vibrating hand tools and not to have concentrated exposure to
work place hazards (such as operating machinery, working at
unprotected heights, or having concentrated exposure to
unguarded hazardous machinery.
20). The ALJ then summarized the medical evidence (R. 20-24),
finding that diagnoses were mild, examinations were
essentially normal, and diagnostic studies were minimal. (R.
then found the plaintiff's “medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged
symptoms; however, [his] statements concerning the intensity,
persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not
entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other
evidence in the record for reasons explained in this
decision.” (R. 23). The ALJ then addressed the medical
opinion evidence. In regard to Dr. Madappallil's
opinions, the ALJ gave them no weight because the doctor said
the onset of plaintiff's impairments was June 2007 while
plaintiff alleged disability began in 2013, limitations were
not consistent with treatment notes, and demonstrated no
increase in severity (R. 23), Dr. Madappallil, an internist,
did not recommend plaintiff see a specialist other than a
pain specialist, and had seen plaintiff only four times since
her alleged onset date. (R. 24). Recalling that the ALJ
dismissed the findings of both the state agency consultative
examiner and reviewing psychologist, the only medical opinion
in the record the ALJ accepted was that of the state agency
reviewing physician. The ALJ adopted the limitations the
doctor found, stating that he was familiar with Social
Security disability, reviewed the record, and provided a
detailed explanation with references to the record. (R. 24).
the ALJ determined that the plaintiff was able to perform her
past work as a cashier /checker, which was light work
requiring a great deal of standing and/or walking, and was
semiskilled. (R. 25). The ALJ then found that plaintiff was
not disabled and not entitled to benefits under the Act. (R.
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.
Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir.1997);
Schloesser v. Berryhill, 870 F.3d 712, 717 (7th Cir.
the Seventh Circuit, the ALJ also has an obligation to build
an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and the
result 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 court has
to 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.
Sarchet v. Chater, 78 F.3d 305, 307 (7th Cir.
1996)(“. . . 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 result.”); see also
Spiva v. Astrue, 628 F.3d 346, 353 (7th Cir.
2010)(“The government seems to think that if it can
find enough evidence in the record to establish that the
administrative law judge might have reached the same result
had she considered all the evidence and evaluated it as ...