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Juozas V. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 10, 2019

JUOZAS V., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [2]

          Gabriel A. Fuentes United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Juozas V.[3] moves for reversal and remand of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). (D.E. 16.) The Commissioner has filed a cross-motion, asking the Court to affirm. (D.E. 24.) For the reasons set forth below, we grant Plaintiffs motion, deny the Commissioner's motion, and remand the case for further proceedings.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff applied for benefits in January 2013, claiming he became disabled on June 1, 2009. (R. 97.) He has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since then. (R. 605.) The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") first denied Plaintiffs claim in a written opinion dated January 14, 2015. (R. 22.) The Appeals Council denied review, Plaintiff sought review in this court, and the Commissioner agreed to remand the case to the agency. (R. 1, 705-08, 710.) The Appeals Council issued a remand order, instructing the ALJ to evaluate further Plaintiffs maximum residual functional capacity ("RFC") and alleged symptoms, to "obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the effect of the assessed limitations on the claimant's occupational base," and to ensure that "hypothetical questions ... reflect the specific capacity/limitations established by the record as a whole." (R. 717.) In addition, the Appeals Council pointed out several concerns it had with the ALJ's decision, including that it was "not clear" what evidence supported the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff could "carry out simple instructions of [sic] unskilled work," "perform simple decision-making," and "meet production rate pace in a shift," but was "unable to meet fast paced, high production demands." (R. 716.)

         In October 2017, on remand to the ALJ, Plaintiff participated in a second administrative hearing, at which he and a vocational expert ("VE") testified (R. 621.) The ALJ presented the VE with two hypothetical questions. In the first, the ALJ asked the VE to consider an individual with Plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and the following non-physical limitations:

the individual is able to perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks and is able to understand, remember and carry out simple instructions.

(R. 666.) The VE opined that this individual could not perform Plaintiffs past work, but could work as an office helper, information clerk, or mailroom clerk. (R. 667.) In the second hypothetical, the ALJ added the following limitations:

the individual is able to perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks; is able to understand, remember and carry out simple instructions; the individual is able to make decisions on simple matters; the individual is unable to meet fast paced, high production demands, such as an assembly line work, but is able to meet production rate pace in a shift.

(R. 667-68.) The VE testified that "[t]he jobs I cited for hypothetical one would remain for hypothetical two." (R. 668.)

         On December 19, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision again denying Plaintiffs claim for benefits. (R. 614.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from two medically severe impairments: anxiety and lumbar spine spondylosis.[4] (R. 605.) Regarding Plaintiffs mental impairment, the ALJ determined that it caused mild limitations in the areas of understanding, remembering, or applying information; interacting with others; and adapting or managing oneself. (R. 606.) In addition, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had moderate limitations in concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace, but that none of Plaintiff s impairments, alone or in combination, amounted to a condition that met or medically equaled an impairment assumed to be disabling under the agency's listings for disability.[5] (Id.)

         The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work, with some additional physical limitations, and "was able to perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks. He was able to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions." (R. 607.) Based on this RFC, the ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work, but that Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Therefore, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled and not entitled to DIB. (R. 613.)

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff presents several arguments for reversing and remanding the ALJ's opinion. We find that remand is necessary on one of these bases, specifically, the ALJ's failure to account adequately for Plaintiffs moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace. We do not reach Plaintiffs additional arguments here.

         A.Standard of ...


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