United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey Cole Magistrate Judge
applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act), 42 U.S.C. Â§Â§ 1381a,
1382c, almost nine years ago, in July of 2009.
(Administrative Record (R.) 613-15). She claimed that she
became disabled as of April 9, 2009 (R. 613), due to
rheumatoid arthritis, COPD, and migraines. (R. 691). Her
claim bounced around the administrative review process for
nearly a decade. Along the way it was denied, repeatedly, at
every level: initial, reconsideration, administrative law
judge (ALJ), and appeals council. There were two remands from
the Appeals Council, and three denials by two different ALJs.
It is that final ALJ's decision, from February 17, 2017,
that is before the court for review. See 20 C.F.R. Â§ 404.955;
404.981. Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. Â§ 405(g) on
March 1, 2018, and the parties consented to the jurisdiction
of a Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Â§636(c) on April
3, 2018. [Dkt. # 11]. The case was then reassigned to me
several months later, on January 10, 2019. [Dkt. #33].
Plaintiff asks the court to reverse and remand the
Commissioner's decision, while the Commissioner seeks an
order affirming the decision.
review the ALJ's decision directly, but we play an
“extremely limited” role. Elder v.
Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
ALJ's decision should be affirmed if it is supported by
substantial evidence, which is “such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Therefore, “even if
‘reasonable minds could differ concerning whether [an
applicant] is disabled, '” we must affirm if the
ALJ's decision has adequate support. See also
Shideler v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 306 (7th Cir.
2012); Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 513-514
(7th Cir. 2009); Schmidt v. Astrue, 496
F.3d 833, 842 (7th Cir.2007).
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). See 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. 2017).
Seventh Circuit, the ALJ also has an obligation to build what
is referred to as an “accurate and logical
bridge” between the evidence and the result to afford
the claimant in order to afford 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 must
be able to trace the path of the ALJ's reasoning from the
evidence to the 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 a “logical
bridge.” Sarchet v. Chater, 78 F.3d 305, 307
(7th Cir. 1996). As the court put it in Sarchet,
“we cannot uphold a decision by an administrative
agency...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.” Thus, even if the court
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 the
government's brief does, it is still not a case of
harmless error. The fact that had the administrative law
judge considered the entire record, the ALJ might have
reached the same result does not prove that the failure to
consider the evidence was harmless. The ALJ could well have
reached a different result. That, at least, is the theory in
this Circuit. Spiva v. Astrue, 628 F.3d 346, 353
(7th Cir. 2010).
the Seventh Circuit has emphasized that this requirement is a
“lax” one, Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d
408, 415 (7th Cir. 2008); Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d
539, 545 (7th Cir. 2008), and reviewing courts “will
not ‘displace the ALJ's judgment by reconsidering
facts or evidence, or by making independent credibility
determinations.'” Simila v. Astrue, 573
F.3d 503, 513 (7thCir. 2009). Indeed, appellate
review of credibility determinations, is quite limited, and
reviewing courts should rarely disturb an ALJ's
credibility determinations - which are entitled to special
deference - unless the credibility finding is unreasonable or
unsupported by the record. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357
F.3d 697, 703 (2004). Accord Green v. Saul, Fed.
Appx., 2019 WL 3297472, at *3 (7th Cir. 2019); Metzger v.
Astrue, 263 Fed.Appx. 529, 533 (7th Cir.
determinations of credibility are fraught with uncertainty.
Carradine v. Barnhart, 360 F.3d 751, 753-754
(7th Cir. 2004). As all the courts have
acknowledged, the ALJ, unlike a reviewing court, had the
opportunity to observe the claimant testifying, and, as
Justice Jackson rightly observed, “a few minutes
observation... in the courtroom is more informing than reams
of cold record.” Ashcraft v. State of Tenn.,
322 U.S. 143, 171 (1944)(Jackson, J., dissenting). See
also Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 703 (7th Cir.
2004);Green, supra (recognizing the special
deference owed to those who make initial credibility
determinations based on their intimate involvement in the
case and exposure to the actual testimony of the witnesses).
short, because the reviewing court lacks direct access to the
witnesses, lacks the trier's immersion in the case as a
whole, and lacks the trier's experience with the type of
case under review, appellate review in Social Security cases
is limited and carefully defined. See, e.g.,
Carradine v. Barnhart, 360 F.3d 751, 753-754
(7th Cir. 2004); Dixon v. Massanari, 270
F.3d 1171, 1178-79 (7th Cir.2001); Shramek v. Apfel,
226 F.3d 809, 811 (7th Cir.2000); Fairman v.
Anderson, 188 F.3d 635, 647 (5th Cir.1999).
was born on June 19, 1974, and so was 35 at the time she
applied for SSI, and 46 at the time of the ALJ's
decision. While she alleges she became disabled on April 9,
2019, she also tells us that she quit working for good June
1, 2004, when she was not even 30 years old. (R. 691). Prior
to that, she worked just one month in a kitchen preparing
food and washing dishes. (R. 701-06); [Dkt. #3, at Page 2/4].
The last time she worked for a full year appears to have been
2001. (R. 638). She receives Medicaid and Link, and is the
representative payee for her child and one of her
grandchildren for SSI and public assistance from the state.
(R. 48-49, 75).
three administrative hearings - at which Plaintiff,
represented by counsel, testified along with medical and
vocational experts - the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not
disabled. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following
severe impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,
rheumatoid arthritis, migraine headaches, carpal tunnel
syndrome, and obesity. (R. 18). The ALJ embarked on a lengthy
summary of the medical evidence and determined 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. (R. 19-26).
then determined that Plaintiff could perform “sedentary
work . . . with [these] additional non-exertional
- Occasionally lift a maximum of 10 pounds;
- Frequently lift and/or carry less than 10 pounds;
- Walk and/or stand for about 2 hours total out of an 8- hour
- Sit for about 6 hours out of an 8-hour-workday; and
- Push and/or pull to include operation of hand/or foot
controls with the bilateral upper and lower extremities as
restricted by the limitations on lifting and/or carrying
- Never climbing ladders, ropes, or ...