United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
G. WILKERSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff,
represented by counsel, seeks judicial review of the final
agency decision denying her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Income Security
(SSI) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
applied for disability benefits in October 2014, alleging
disability as of February 25, 2012. After holding an
evidentiary hearing, an ALJ denied the application on
December 27, 2017. (Tr. 84-95). 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:
and material evidence was submitted to the Appeals Council
which would have changed the ALJ's decision had he
ALJ erred by selectively considering and
“cherry-picking” the evidence concerning
plaintiff's degenerative disc disease and pain issues.
ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of plaintiff's
ALJ erred in assessing the reliability of plaintiff's
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.
She was insured for DIB only through December 31, 2012.
found that plaintiff had severe impairments of degenerative
disc disease, migraines, anxiety disorder, and depression.
found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform work at the light exertional level limited
to no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolding; occasional
climbing of ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, and crawling; and occasional pushing and/or
pulling with her lower extremities. The ALJ also assessed
mental limitations, but plaintiff raises no issue as to her
on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff was not able to do her past work as a medical
records clerk or medical receptionist, but she was able to do
other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary
record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The
following summary of the record is directed to
was born in 1963 and was 54 years old on the date of the
ALJ's decision. A prior claim had been denied in May 2013
at the Appeals Council level. There is no indication that
plaintiff sought judicial review. (Tr. 340).
Function Report submitted in December 2014, plaintiff said
she could not work because she had three surgeries on her
neck, had bone spurs on her shoulders and a herniated disc in
her low back, and had migraines. (Tr. 380). She could only
lift five pounds. Her legs hurt all the time. She could stand
for ten minutes and walk for one hundred to two hundred feet.
She could sit for fifteen to twenty minutes. When she had a
migraine, she could not think because the pain was “so
unbearable.” (Tr. 385). She was living with her parents
and going through a divorce when she completed the report.
September 2015, she reported that her primary care doctor had
referred her to Dr. Pfalzgraf, a “rheumatoid doctor,
” to see ...