United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
A. Jensen United States Magistrate Judge.
Jamie W. brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
seeking reversal or a remand of the decision denying her
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a
United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below,
the Commissioner's decision is reversed, and this case is
April 10, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income. Plaintiff alleged a disability beginning on December
29, 2002, as a result of spastic colon, celiac disease,
interstitial cystitis,  endometriosis, scar tissue,
temporomandibular joint disorder, osteoarthritis, right
shoulder tear, fibromyalgia syndrome, and learning
disabilities. R. 282, 289. Her date last insured for
disability insurance benefits was June 30, 2004.
medical records span from 2002 through 2016 and reveal
treatment for numerous conditions. Plaintiff's appeal
focuses on her treatment for fibromyalgia, digestive issues,
and pain, so the Court will focus on the records related to
those impairments. As was noted at the administrative level,
there were limited medical records between Plaintiff's
alleged onset date in 2002 and her date last insured in
2004. Most of Plaintiff's medical records
relating to the impairments at issue in this appeal do not
begin until approximately 2005 when she received treatment
for fibromyalgia, digestive issues, and pain. See R.
656, 864-65, 1824. Plaintiff's records, however,
reference a history of digestive issues. See R. 657
(10/28/2005 medical note: “She has a history or
irritable bowel syndrome.”); R. 658 (9/27/2005 medical
note: “GI symptoms date back to the age of 12.”);
R. 1210 (4/15/2005 medical note: “has a h/o IBS and
lactose intolerance since age 12 - usually has
18, 2016, Plaintiff, represented by an attorney, testified at
a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). The ALJ also heard testimony from Dr.
Ronald Semerdjian, a medical expert, and Jill Radke, a
vocational expert (“VE”).
time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 34 years old. Plaintiff
testified that she lived alone but was dependent on her
parents to help her daily. R. 50. Plaintiff testified that
she was unable to work because she was “not
reliable” and because her arthritis, which was
throughout her body, was painful and debilitating. R. 58-59.
Plaintiff's IBS related constipation also made her miss
appointments or caused her to be late. R. 73, 77. However,
medical marijuana provided some relief. R. 73, 79.
fibromyalgia, which she explained as her “main issue,
” also caused her to be “in bed for days.”
R. 59. Plaintiff testified that Lyrica, Percocet, and
medicinal marijuana helped to relieve some of her pain. R.
60. Plaintiff testified that on a good day she could walk no
more than 15 minutes, but that she would need to take breaks
to stretch. R. 63. She could sit for no more than 30 minutes
before she needed to stretch and could lift no more than five
pounds. R. 64. Plaintiff would get exhausted easily and could
only complete one task for the day, such as showering or
going to the grocery store or a doctor appointment. R. 61.
Plaintiff also had a hard time completing tasks because her
muscles would give out. R. 61. Plaintiff explained that she
had a hard time showering because it was physically
exhausting, and she had difficulty washing her hair because
she could not hold her arms up. R. 63.
Semerdjian, an internist, testified that Plaintiff's
celiac disease was controlled. R. 87. He also believed that
Plaintiff's IBS and interstitial cystitis were only an
issue early on in Plaintiff's medical records. R. 87-88.
In relation to Plaintiff's fibromyalgia, Dr. Semerdjian
noted that throughout the record, Plaintiff's providers
recommended that she exercise to relieve some of her pain. R.
91. Dr. Semerdjian concluded that Plaintiff's
fibromyalgia and psychological issues were her main
impairments. R. 94. When the ALJ asked if Plaintiff met or
equaled a listing, Dr. Semerdjian responded that “I
think the combined fibromyalgia and psychological issues
probably - but I don't know what listing to assign to
that because we're back into dealing with fibromyalgia
again. Her testimony - I couldn't hear all of what she
said, I'm sorry, but what I heard what she was saying she
focused on a good degree of fatigability. I believe I heard
her say if she showered she couldn't do anything else the
rest of the day.” R. 94-95.
Plaintiff's limitations, Dr. Semerdjian opined that
Plaintiff's fibromyalgia-related pain was the only
impairment that was limiting her physical functioning. R. 96.
When the ALJ pressed for specific limitations, Dr. Semerdjian
stated, in part, “Functionally let's say that she
can - I think she can sit six of eight hours. Standing and
walking my guess is it's going to be between two to four
hours probably. As far as being able to lift and carry I
think she could probably lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10
frequently. I don't think there's any disability that
would prevent her from doing that.” R. 96.
Semerdjian also found that Plaintiff did not meet Listing
5.08 because she did not have “any good pattern of
weight loss.” R. 99. Dr. Semerdjian explained that
Plaintiff's weight fluctuated over time and sometimes
fell below a body mass index (“BMI”) of 17.5, but
that this was merely a vacillation in her weight and not a
loss where she was unable to regain the weight. R. 99-101.
Dr. Semerdjian opined that Plaintiff's natural weight was
low to begin with. R. 102. In response, Plaintiff explained
that her weight fluctuated based on swelling and
constipation. R. 101.
counsel also asked Dr. Semerdjian how often Plaintiff would
miss work due to pain. Dr. Semerdjian responded that “I
think that it is clear in the record that her perception of
the pain - I can't - again I'm not measuring her
pain, but her perception of it is such that she feels her
threshold for functioning productively is low.” R. 103.
Dr. Semerdjian opined that Plaintiff would likely miss work
two days or more a month. R. 104.
ultimately denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. The
ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: fibromyalgia, generalized anxiety
disorder/depression, and intellectual disability. R. 21. The
ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet
or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 23-26. The ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform sedentary work with certain
restrictions. R. 26.
Standard of Review
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). ...