United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
JOSEPH J. L., JR.,  Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER of SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
G. WILKERSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
accordance with 42 U.S.C. Â§ 405(g), plaintiff, represented by
counsel, seeks judicial review of the final agency decision
denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) and Supplemental Income Security (SSI) benefits
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Â§ 423.
applied for disability benefits in September and October
2014, alleging disability as of October 15, 2007. After
holding an evidentiary hearing, an ALJ denied the application
on November 7, 2017. (Tr. 15-30). The Appeals Council denied
review, and the decision of the ALJ became the final agency
decision. (Tr. 1). Administrative remedies have been
exhausted and a timely complaint was filed in this Court.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following points:
1. Did the ALJ err by independently crafting his own RFC
after effectively rejecting every medical opinion of record?
2. Did the ALJ err by impermissibly playing doctor and
interpreting medical evidence in the course of formulating
his RFC determination?
3. Did the ALJ err in his analysis of Dr. Workman's
4. Did the ALJ err by omitting important evidence and,
relatedly, failing to consider the combined effect of
qualify for DIB or SSI, a claimant must be disabled within
the meaning of the applicable statutes. Under the Social
Security Act, a person is disabled if she has an
“inability 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.
determine whether a plaintiff is disabled, the ALJ considers
the following five questions in order: (1) Is the plaintiff
presently unemployed? (2) Does the plaintiff have a severe
impairment? (3) Does the impairment meet or medically equal
one of a list of specific impairments enumerated in the
regulations? (4) Is the plaintiff unable to perform her
former occupation? and (5) Is the plaintiff unable to perform
any other work? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
affirmative answer at either step three or step five leads to
a finding that the plaintiff is disabled. A negative answer
at any step, other than at step three, precludes a finding of
disability. The plaintiff bears the burden of proof at steps
one through four. Once the plaintiff shows an inability to
perform past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner
to show that there are jobs existing in significant numbers
in the national economy which plaintiff can perform.
Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir.
Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to ensure that
the decision is supported by substantial evidence and that no
mistakes of law were made. It is important to recognize that
the scope of review is limited. “The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . .” 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Thus, this Court must determine not
whether plaintiff was, in fact, disabled at the relevant
time, but whether the ALJ's findings were supported by
substantial evidence and whether any errors of law were made.
Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539
(7th Cir. 2003). This Court uses the Supreme Court's
definition of substantial evidence, i.e., “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Biestek v.
Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (internal
reviewing for “substantial evidence, ” the entire
administrative record is taken into consideration, but this
Court does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts,
decide questions of credibility, or substitute its own
judgment for that of the ALJ. Burmester v.
Berryhill, 920 F.3d 507, 510 (7th Cir. 2019).
However, while judicial review is deferential, it is not
abject; this Court does not act as a rubber stamp for the
Commissioner. See, Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920,
921 (7th Cir. 2010), and cases cited therein.
Decision of the ALJ
followed the five-step analytical framework described above.
He determined that plaintiff had not worked at the level of
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. He
was insured for DIB only through September 30, 2009.
found that, prior to the date last insured, plaintiff had no
severe impairments. Since the date in October 2014 when he
filed his claim for SSI, plaintiff had severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease; osteoarthritis affecting the right
foot, ankle, knee, hand, hips, and shoulders; coronary artery
disease with arrhythmia, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia;
diabetes with neuropathy; level one obesity; carpal tunnel
syndrome; and headaches.
found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform work at the sedentary exertional level
limited to standing/walking for a total of two hours a day;
frequent reaching, handling, and fingering bilaterally; no
climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasional climbing
of stairs and ramps; and occasional stooping, kneeling,
crouching, and crawling. Based on the testimony of a
vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not
able to do his past work ...