United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
A. Jensen United States Magistrate Judge.
is seeking Social Security disability benefits. She filed her
application on November 10, 2014, when she was 53 years old.
Her medical problems fall into two categories. She has vision
limitations caused by treatments for pituitary tumors. The
second problem area is numbness and tingling in her hands and
arms, which she claims makes it difficult to do some
manipulative tasks. These symptoms are caused by several
underlying impairments, including carpal tunnel syndrome,
cubital tunnel syndrome in her right elbow, trigger thumb on
the right hand, and a partial tear in a tendon and mild
degenerative disc disease in her left shoulder.
in the fall of 2014, which was around the time she filed her
application, she underwent several procedures to treat these
problems. These were as follows:
• October 2014-right carpal tunnel release
• January 2015-left carpal tunnel release
• April 2015-an injection of her trigger thumb
• July 2015-right elbow nerve decompression
procedures were performed by Dr. Brian J. Foster, an
orthopedic surgeon. After each procedure, Dr. Foster
eventually concluded that plaintiff could return to work.
Specifically, on December 30, 2014, two months after the
right carpal tunnel surgery, Dr. Foster released plaintiff to
work “[f]ull duty, no restrictions.” R. 532. In
March 2015, two months after the left carpal tunnel surgery,
Dr. Foster again released her to work “[f]ull duty, no
restrictions.” R. 712. Finally, in October 2015,
several months after the trigger thumb and ulnar procedures,
Dr. Foster released plaintiff to work with, again,
“[n]o restrictions.” R. 854.
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing
in August 2016. Dr. Ashok Jilhewar testified as the impartial
medical expert. He opined that plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to do light work
subject to certain restrictions, the relevant one for this
appeal being that plaintiff could only do frequent handling,
fingering, and reaching with her right hand and
Dr. Jilhewar imposed no restrictions on the left hand and
arm. Dr. Jilhewar relied, in part, on the fact that Dr.
Foster did not impose any work restrictions.
December 12, 2016, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not
disabled. The ALJ adopted Dr. Jilhewar's analysis and RFC
proposal, with one exception. The ALJ extended the handling
limitations to the left arm in addition to the right arm. The
ALJ also relied in part on Dr. Foster's statements that
plaintiff had no work restrictions, but here again the ALJ
did not adopt that opinion in full given the inclusion of the
bilateral handling restriction. In short, the ALJ adopted a
more restrictive RFC than suggested by either Dr. Jilhewar or
reviewing court may enter judgment “affirming,
modifying, or reversing the decision of the [Commissioner],
with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.”
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). If supported by substantial
evidence, the Commissioner's factual findings are
conclusive. Id. Substantial evidence exists if there
is enough evidence that would allow a reasonable mind to
determine that the decision's conclusion is supportable.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 399-401 (1971).
Accordingly, the reviewing court cannot displace the decision
by reconsidering facts or evidence, or by making independent
credibility determinations. Elder v. Astrue, 529
F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
the Seventh Circuit has emphasized that review is not merely
a rubber stamp. Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593
(7th Cir. 2002) (a “mere scintilla” is not
substantial evidence). A reviewing court must conduct a
critical review of the evidence before affirming the
Commissioner's decision. Eichstadt v. Astrue,
534 F.3d 663, 665 (7th Cir. 2008). Even when adequate record
evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision,
the decision will not be affirmed if the Commissioner does
not build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to
the conclusion. Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544
(7th Cir. 2008). Moreover, federal courts cannot build a
logical bridge on behalf of the ALJ. See Mason v.
Colvin, No. 13 C 2993, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152938, at
*19-20 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 29, 2014).
raises two main arguments for a remand. The main one is that
the ALJ erred in finding that plaintiff could do frequent
handling (i.e. between one-third and two-thirds of
the day) whereas plaintiff believes she can only do these
activities occasionally (i.e. up to one-third of the
day). If the ALJ had made the latter finding, then plaintiff
would have been found disabled under the grid ...