United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
JASON N. A.,  Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER of SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
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 his application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income
(SSI) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
filed an application for both DIB and SSI in April 2015,
alleging disability as of June 13, 2001. After holding an
evidentiary hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
denied both applications on November 22, 2017. (Tr. 14-24).
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. The ALJ did not adhere to SSR 96-8p when he ignored and
misstated evidence in his conclusion.
2. The ALJ did not adhere to SSR 16-3p when he failed
properly assess plaintiff's subjective allegations in
determining plaintiff's credibility.
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.
§ 423(d)(1)(a). To 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.
affirmative answer at either step 3 or step 5 leads to a
finding that the plaintiff is disabled. Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001). A negative
answer at any step, other than at step 3, precludes a finding
of disability. Ibid. The plaintiff bears the burden
of proof at steps 1-4. Ibid. Once the plaintiff
shows an inability to perform past work, the burden then
shifts to the Commissioner to show the plaintiff's
ability to engage in other work existing in significant
numbers in the national economy. Ibid.
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
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.
The ALJ found that plaintiff had severe impairments of
multilevel degenerative disc disease of spine status/post
L4-5 surgical fusion; degenerative arthritis of the ankles,
bilateral; bipolar disorder; attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder; hypertension; gastroesophageal reflux disease
(GERD); and seizure disorder.
found that plaintiff had the RFC to perform work at the
sedentary exertional level, limited to no climbing of
ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; occasional climbing of ramps
and stairs; occasional stooping, crouching, crawling, and
kneeling; and no exposure to excessive vibration, unprotected
heights, and hazardous machinery. The ALJ stated that
plaintiff must be allowed to sit or stand alternatively, if
he is not off task more than 10% of his scheduled work
period. In addition, the ALJ wrote that plaintiff can
remember, understand, and carry out only simple, routine
instructions and tasks consistent with SVP levels 1 and 2
type jobs. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert