United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
S. Shah United States District Judge
Ricardo C. appeals the Social Security
Administration's denial of his application for disability
benefits. An ALJ heard plaintiff's case and
denied his application for benefits because the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff is not disabled. Ricardo C. petitioned the
Appeals Council for review of the denial, but the Council
denied his request, resulting in his appeal to this court.
The Commissioner moves for summary judgment. For the reasons
explained below, the motion is denied, and the ALJ's
decision is reversed and remanded.
the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for
review, the ALJ's ruling is the Commissioner's final
decision for review. See Jozefyk v. Berryhill, 923
F.3d 492, 496 (7th Cir. 2019). The ALJ's ruling stands
unless the decision is not supported by substantial evidence
or is the result of a legal error. L.D.R. by Wagner v.
Berryhill, 920 F.3d 1146, 1151 (7th Cir. 2019).
Substantial evidence means that which a reasonable person
could accept as enough to support the conclusion.
Id. at 1151-52. I do not reweigh evidence, resolve
conflicts, determine credibility, or otherwise substitute my
judgment for that of the ALJ. Id. at 1152. Though my
review is deferential, the ALJ “must build an
‘accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his
conclusion'” and “explain [his] decision in
such a way that allows [me] to determine whether [he] reached
[his] decision in a rational manner, logically based on [his]
specific findings and the evidence in the record.”
McKinzey v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 884, 889-90 (7th Cir.
2011) (citation omitted).
August 2014, Ricardo C. applied for Social Security
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income based on certain physical and mental impairments,
including schizophrenia. A.R. 186, 219. After his
application was denied, reconsidered, and denied again, he
filed a written request for a hearing. A.R. 111, 123, 126.
The ALJ held a hearing on July 13, 2016. A.R. 44.
hearing, plaintiff testified that his depression prevents him
from working and that on days when he is symptomatic, he just
sits on the porch while smoking cigarettes and drinking
coffee. A.R. 52-53. He said he was taking medication for his
depression, which helped, but a recent move interrupted his
access to the medication and the medication made him
restless. A.R. 53-54. Plaintiff also reported having
schizophrenia and hearing voices. A.R. 54. He said the
schizophrenia medication had negative side effects too-it
slowed him down, made his concentration “bad, ”
caused him to “drift off” or “blank out,
” and resulted in restlessness. A.R. 54- 55. He said
the voices he hears-which tell him to do things-come and go,
and sometimes it feels like he hears them every day. A.R. 54.
Plaintiff reported visual hallucinations too. A.R. 62. He
also testified about other limitations, including anxiety,
thyroid issues, diabetes, and high blood pressure. A.R.
56-57. When questioned about his daily activities, he said
his godmother cooks his meals for him since he can't
concentrate and has tremors. A.R. 59. He also said he
doesn't make his bed, clean, do laundry, read, or watch
television. A.R. 59-60.
vocational expert testified next. The ALJ asked the expert
hypotheticals premised on a 48-year-old man with a high
school education and plaintiff's work experience (as a
forklift operator) doing work at a medium level of exertion
that was limited to (1) “simple, routine, repetitive
tasks, ” (2) “performed in a work environment
free of fast-paced production requirements, ” (3)
“involving only simple work-related decisions, ”
(4) “with few if any work place changes, ” and
(5) having “only brief and superficial interaction with
the public” and co-workers. A.R. 65-66. First, the ALJ
asked whether the hypothetical man could do plaintiff's
earlier job as a forklift operator, and the expert said no.
A.R. 66. Next, he asked whether this hypothetical man could
do other “medium, unskilled jobs” in the economy,
and she said yes-he could be a hospital cleaner, a janitor,
or a hospital food service worker. A.R. 66. Then the ALJ
asked whether there were any medium, unskilled jobs for the
hypothetical man if he was going to miss two days of work
each month, and the expert said no. A.R. 66-67. Those missed
days were “job preclusive.” A.R. 67. Last, the
ALJ asked whether there were any medium, unskilled jobs for
the hypothetical man if he was going to be off task for 20
percent of the work day, and the expert replied that no, that
would be job preclusive too. A.R. 67. The expert testified
that “[t]he standard is approximately, for these types
of jobs, unskilled, you have to be … on task at least
85 percent of the time.” A.R. 67.
the Social Security Act, a person is disabled if he is unable
“to engage in any substantial gainful activity by
reason of a 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§
416(i)(1), 423(d)(1)(A). The ALJ found that plaintiff is not
disabled. A.R. 24. He came to this conclusion by following
the five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). At Step 1, the ALJ found that
plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the alleged onset date of his disability. A.R. 26. At
Steps 2 and 3, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has severe
impairments of anxiety, schizophrenia, and polysubstance
abuse, but that the impairments do not meet the requirements
to establish a presumptive disability. A.R. 26-28. At Steps 3
and 4, the ALJ found that plaintiff has the residual
functional capacity to do “medium work, ” so long
as it is restricted to “simple, routine and repetitive
tasks[;] performed in a work environment free of fast paced
production requirements; involving only simple, work-related
decisions; and with few, if any work place changes” and
plaintiff “should have only brief and superficial
interaction with the public and co-workers.” A.R.
28-29. Given this RFC, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff
cannot perform his past relevant work as a forklift operator.
A.R. 35. And at Step 5, the ALJ found that plaintiff's
age, education, work experience, and RFC are compatible with
jobs that exist in sufficient numbers in the economy (the
hospital cleaner, janitor, and hospital food service worker
positions that the expert mentioned), so plaintiff is not
disabled. A.R. 35-36.
C. argues that the ALJ did not adequately consider evidence
of his low energy, sleepiness, and difficulty concentrating
when crafting the RFC. “[B]oth the hypothetical posed
to the [vocational expert] and the ALJ's RFC assessment
must incorporate all of the claimant's limitations
supported by the medical record.” Winsted v.
Berryhill, 923 F.3d 472, 476 (7th Cir. 2019) (quoting
Varga v. Colvin, 794 F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 2015)).
“This includes any deficiencies the claimant may have
in concentration, persistence, or pace.” Yurt v.
Colvin, 758 F.3d 850, 857 (7th Cir. 2014).
recognized that plaintiff is moderately limited in
“concentration, persistence, or pace.” A.R. 28,
The ALJ didn't quite explain plaintiff's specific
limitations, but he gave “great weight” to the
opinion of Dr. Williams, a non-examining state agency
psychological consultant. A.R. 34. Dr. Williams concluded
that plaintiff “has an impairment in ability to sustain
attention and concentration, ” opined that plaintiff
“appears to be able to complete [a] normal workweek
with moderate interruptions from psychologically based
symptoms, ” and observed “moderate impairment in
maintaining attention and concentration adequately for 2hour
periods in an 8-hour work day.” A.R. 34.
justifying his RFC assessment, the ALJ explained that he
“accommodated [plaintiff's] moderate limitations
especially in concentration, persistence or pace by limiting
him to a work environment free of fast paced production
requirements and involving only simple work related decisions
and few if any work place changes.” A.R. 34-35. But
none of those restrictions address plaintiff's moderate
limitation on concentration, persistence, and pace. See
DeCamp v. Berryhill, 916 F.3d 671, 676 (7th Cir. 2019)
(“[T]here is no basis to suggest that eliminating jobs
with strict production quotas or a fast pace may serve as a
proxy for including a moderate limitation on concentration,
persistence, and pace.”); Yurt, 758 F.3d at
858-59 (“[W]e have repeatedly rejected the notion that
a hypothetical like the one here confining the claimant to
simple, routine tasks and limited interactions with others
adequately captures temperamental deficiencies and
limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace.”).
Suppose plaintiff got a job as a janitor that required him to
clean just one room during his shift. If he was unable to
concentrate and stay on task-actually clean-then he
couldn't do the job, no ...