United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
JUDY D. Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER 
I. SCHENKIER, MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Judy D., moves for summary judgment seeking reversal and
remand of the final decision of defendant, the Commissioner
of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her
application for disability insurance benefits
("DIB") (doc. # 15; doc. # 16: Pl.'s Summ. J.
Mem.). The Commissioner has filed a response asking us to
affirm his decision (doc. # 23: Def.'s Summ. J. Resp.),
and Ms. D. has filed a reply (doc. # 24: Pl's Reply). For
the following reasons, we grant Ms. D.'s motion and
remand the case for further proceedings.
February 20, 2014, Ms. D. applied for DIB, alleging
disability due to neuropathy and multiple sclerosis
("MS") and a disability onset date of October 31,
2006 (R. 84, 90, 104). Her date last insured ("DLI")
was December 31, 2011 (R. 18, 90), so the relevant time
period for evaluating her DIB claim is October 31, 2006
through December 31, 2011 (the "Relevant Period").
See McHenry v. Berryhill, 911 F.3d 866, 869 (7th
Cir. 2018) (explaining that a claimant must establish that
she became disabled before the DLI to qualify for DIB).
Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Ms.
D.'s application at the initial and reconsideration
stages of review, after which Ms. D. requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") (R.
90-91, 104-07, 112-17). On August 24, 2016, the ALJ held a
hearing at which Ms. D. and a vocational expert
("VE") testified (R. 35-83). On October 26, 2016,
the ALJ issued a decision denying Ms. D.'s DIB claim (R.
15-34). The Appeals Council denied Ms. D.'s request for
review, making the ALJ's decision the final word of the
Commissioner (R. 1-5). See Varga v. Colvin, 794 F.3d
809, 813 (7th Cir. 2015); 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
was born on January 19, 1961 (R. 172). She worked as a
patient care technician in a hospital from 1995 until 2006
(R. 209). She reported that she stopped working because of
her conditions on October 31, 2006 (R. 208). Although the ALJ
ultimately found that Ms. D. had both mental and physical
impairments that were medically determinable, we focus on
evidence that touches upon Ms. D.'s mental impairments
because the ALJ's treatment of those impairments forms
the basis of our decision in this case.
January 2009, Ms. D. visited Steven Chandler, D.O.,
complaining of bilateral hip and leg pain that had begun four
years earlier (R. 300). At the time, Ms. D. exhibited no
psychological symptoms; specifically, "[n]o anxiety, no
depression, and no sleep disturbances" (R. 301).
December 14, 2009, Ms. D. presented to Advocate Christ
Medical Center after she attempted suicide by sitting in a
bathtub filled with water while holding a plugged-in hair
dryer (R. 282-83). Intake notes from Mohammad Razzaque, M.D.,
note that Ms. D. had a history of bipolar depression and that
she had been drinking heavily on the weekends because she
suspected that her husband was cheating on her (R.
282). Ms. D. was admitted to the psychiatric
floor and was "to continue psychotropic
medication"; the notes, however, do not identify the
specific psychotropic medication at issue (R.
282-83). Although the ALJ indicated that this
hospitalization lasted less than one week (R. 22), we have
not seen anything in the record reflecting when Ms. D. was
than two months later, on February 5, 2010, paramedics took
Ms. D. to the emergency room at Little Company of Mary
Hospital for alcohol intoxication (R. 655-63). She reported
that she was drinking so heavily because her husband was
having an affair (R. 657). Ms. D. was discharged the same
night (R. 662).
March 15, 2010, Ms. D. voluntarily admitted herself to the
hospital after another suicide attempt; while intoxicated,
she took 40 aspirin and 10 Pepcid and then sat in her car in
a closed garage with the car running (R. 667). Ms. D. stated
that she had been depressed for several weeks regarding her
husband's affair (Id.). The medical notes state
that Ms. D. had "no formal psychiatric treatment"
and "[n]o previous psychiatric hospitalization" and
that, although she was previously admitted to the hospital
for alcohol intoxication, "she minimize[d] any suicide
attempts around that time of admission" (R. 667, 669).
Ms. D. was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, status
post-suicide attempt, and was treated with individual
psychotherapy and medication (Id.). She was
discharged from the hospital on March 21, 2010 (R. 667).
saw Vijay Bajaj, M.D., from 2006 to November 2010 (R. 212,
288-90, 735). Sometime during this time period (the
depression screening form at issue is undated), Dr. Bajaj
screened Ms. D. for depression (R. 297). A diagnosis of major
depression requires the presence of at least five out of the
nine criteria listed on the form (Id.). Dr. Bajaj
assessed Ms. D. as having three out of nine criteria:
significant weight loss or weight gain, insomnia/hypersomnia,
and psychomotor agitation/retardation (Id.).
denying Ms. D.'s DIB claim, the ALJ followed the familiar
five-step process for assessing disability. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). At Step One, the ALJ determined
that Ms. D. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
during the Relevant Period (R. 20). At Step Two, the ALJ
determined that Ms. D. suffered from the following severe
impairments during the Relevant Period: chronic pain,
degenerative disc disease, and a history of alcohol abuse
(Id.). At this step, the ALJ also concluded that
although Ms. D. reported an MS diagnosis, she had not
established that it was a medically determinable impairment
(R. 21). The ALJ further found that Ms. D. suffered from a
medically determinable affective disorder,  but that this
impairment was not severe (Id.). In making this
finding, the ALJ evaluated Ms. D.'s degree of limitation
in four broad functional areas (R. 21-22). The ALJ determined
that Ms. D. experienced (1) no limitation in activities of
daily living; (2) no limitation in social functioning; (3)