United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Western Division
William B. Plaintiff,
Andrew Marshall Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
A. JENSEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
William B. brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
challenging the partially favorable decision granting
disability benefits. The parties consented to the
jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The Commissioner's decision
is reversed, and this case is remanded.
filed an application for disability benefits on July 31,
2012, alleging disability beginning December 26, 2007. R.
768. Plaintiff's date last insured is September 30, 2011.
R. 769. His application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration. R. 768. Following a hearing held on December
9, 2014, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Cynthia Bretthauer
issued an opinion denying benefits on January 22, 2015. R.
13–27. Plaintiff appealed the decision, and, upon the
Commissioner's agreed motion to remand, the case was
remanded from the U.S. District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois. R. 856. Another hearing was held by ALJ
Bretthauer on October 5, 2017. R. 789. Plaintiff, represented
by an attorney, appeared and testified. R. 791. Dr. Ronald
Semerdjian, an impartial medical expert, and Susan Entenberg,
an impartial vocational expert (VE), also appeared and
testified. Id. Pursuant to the District Court remand
order, the Appeals Council directed the ALJ to obtain
evidence from a medical expert to clarify the nature and
severity of Plaintiff's impairments, determine whether
Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled the
criteria of any listing, particularly 1.07 (Fracture of an
upper extremity), give further consideration to
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), evaluate
Plaintiff's alleged symptoms and provide rationale in
accordance with disability regulations pertaining to
evaluation of symptoms, and obtain, if necessary,
supplemental vocational expert testimony to determine what
jobs exist in significant numbers for Plaintiff in the
national economy. R. 768.
November 6, 2017, the ALJ issued a partially favorable
decision, finding that Plaintiff was disabled from December
26, 2007 to June 30, 2013. R. 768–82. Under the
regulations, "when a case is remanded by a Federal court
for further consideration, the decision of the administrative
law judge will become the final decision of the Commissioner
after remand on your case unless the Appeals Council assumes
jurisdiction of the case." 20 C.F.R. § 404.984.
There is no evidence that the Appeals Council assumed
jurisdiction of this case so the ALJ's decision is the
final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff now seeks
judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
Court will briefly summarize Plaintiff's medical history
that is relevant to this appeal. This section does not
represent Plaintiff's entire medical history. On December
26, 2007, Plaintiff suffered several injuries after a
ten-foot fall off a roof. R. 339. X-rays of the right elbow
showed a comminuted fracture of the proximal radius/radial
head fracture. R. 356. A right radial head replacement in his
elbow was performed on December 28, 2007. R. 358. A February
2008 MRI showed a mild bulge at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 level of
his spine but without significant stenosis or impingement
neural elements. R. 326. In a March 2008 follow-up, Plaintiff
complained of low back pain, numbness in the left thigh, and
weakness in the right forearm. R. 300.
August 8, 2008, an orthopedic surgeon performed surgery to
release the intersection area between the thumb abductors and
extensors and the second dorsal compartment radial wrist
extensors. R. 329. On April 27, 2009, Plaintiff underwent a
functional capacity evaluation (FCE) and was rated at
constant lifting 10 pounds, frequent lifting 24 pounds,
occasional lifting 50 pounds, and rarely lifting 100 pounds.
R. 398. A July 29, 2009 x-ray of Plaintiff's hip revealed
no evidence of fracture, dislocation, or gross bony
destructive lesion. R. 345. However, a December 2009 MRI
suggested a labral tear of his left hip joint. R. 454. On
July 8, 2010, Plaintiff had a left hip arthroscopy, with
ossicle removal and labral debridement, and an osteal
chondroplasty of the femoral head/neck junction in the hip.
a tear in his left wrist, Plaintiff had a left wrist
arthroscopy to repair the tear with a synovectomy on August
24, 2009. R. 441. On September 20, 2011, Plaintiff had an
arthrogram of the shoulder, which showed a SLAP (superior
lateral anterior posterior) lesion, a split tear of biceps
tendon, and a partial tear of supraspinatus. R. 540–42.
On April 3, 2012, Plaintiff had several procedures on his
right wrist: right wrist arthroscopy with debridement of the
triangular fibrocartilage complex and ulnocarpal synovitis,
ulnar (forearm bone) shortening osteotomy, and distal radius
autograft to the osteotomy. R. 611. Due to a failure of
consolidation of bone graft, a repair of the ulnar nonunion
with iliac crest (from the hip) was performed on September
13, 2012. R. 614.
13, 2013, Plaintiff had a left shoulder arthroscopy with
extensive debridement. R. 706. On April 22, 2014, Plaintiff
underwent a second FCE. R. 726. Plaintiff put out a high
level of physical effort, and his pain reports (left hip,
right elbow, wrist pain) were reliable. Id. The
physical therapist, Michael Toman, who wrote the FCE opined
that Plaintiff was unable to return to his pre-injury
carpenter job because he did not meet the lifting, carrying,
or pushing demands of his pre-injury work. However, Mr. Toman
stated that Plaintiff could meet the demands for standing,
walking, and sitting of his pre-injury job. But in the same
FCE, Mr. Toman recommended that Plaintiff should be limited
to light work for material handling and limit standing and
walking to an "occasional" basis. R. 727.
The ALJ's decision
went through a five-step analysis to determine whether
Plaintiff was disabled under the Social Security Act.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). At step one of
the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
been engaging in substantial gainful activity since December
26, 2017 when Plaintiff became disabled. R. 772. At step two,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments from December 26, 2007 to June 30, 2013: right
radial head fracture, status post surgery, with residual
intersection syndrome; lumbar spinal arthralgias; left hip
arthralgias; and obesity. Id. At step three, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff's right radial head fracture status
post surgery with residual intersection syndrome met the
criteria of listing 1.07 (Fracture of an upper extremity) of
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 from December 26,
2007 to June 20, 2013. R. 773.
began by summarizing Plaintiff's medical history and his
subjective complaints. The ALJ gave great weight to Dr.
Semerdjian's testimony at the hearing. R. 778. Dr.
Semerdjian opined that Plaintiff met listing 1.07 through
June 2013 (allowing several months after the September 2012
surgery for healing). R. 777. Because the ALJ found that
Plaintiff met listing 1.07 at step three and that Plaintiff
was disabled from December 26, 2007 to June 30, 2013, the ALJ
did not need to go on to the next step. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
determining that Plaintiff was entitled to disability
benefits, the ALJ then went through an eight-step analysis to
determine if Plaintiff’s disability continued or ended.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f). At step one, the
ALJ already determined that Plaintiff was not performing
substantial gainful activity. R. 772. At step two, the ALJ
relied on Dr. Semerdjian's finding that Plaintiff no
longer met or equaled the severity of an impairment beginning
July 1, 2013. R. 778. At step three, the ALJ found that
medical improvement occurred as of July 1, 2013. Id.
At step four, the ALJ determined that the medical improvement
was related to the ability to work because Plaintiff no
longer had an impairment or combination of impairments that
met or medically equaled the severity of a listing.
Id. If the ALJ found that the medical improvement
was not related to the ability to work, then the ALJ would
have considered if an exception applied. But because the
medical improvement was related to the ability to work, the
analysis proceeded to step six, where the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff's current impairments in combination were
severe. Id. At step seven, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff's RFC was to perform light work except
Plaintiff can: occasionally push and/or pull with the right
upper extremity, frequently stoop, crawl, climb, crouch, and
kneel, do no overhead reaching with right upper extremity
with weights, and should avoid concentrated exposure to
extreme cold. Id. The ALJ noted that an April 2014
FCE supported Dr. Semerdjian's opinion that Plaintiff did
not have functional limitations with standing or walking.
Id. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to
perform past relevant work since July 1, 2013 because the ALJ
limited Plaintiff to light work and Plaintiff's past work
as a carpenter was heavy in exertion. R. 781. Finally, at
step eight, the ALJ found that beginning July 1, 2013,
considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience,
and RFC, there were jobs in significant numbers in the
national economy that Plaintiff could perform. Id.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing court reviews the ALJ's determination to see if
it is supported by "substantial evidence, " meaning
"such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Moore
v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1120–21 (7th Cir. 2014)
(quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401
(1971)). Accordingly, the reviewing court takes a very
limited role and 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 ALJ is not required
to mention every piece of evidence but must provide an
'accurate and logical bridge' between the evidence
and the conclusion that the claimant is not disabled, so that
'as a reviewing court, we may assess the validity of the
agency's ultimate findings and afford [the] claimant
meaningful judicial review.'" Craft v.
Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting
Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1002 (7th Cir.
2004)). An ALJ only needs to "minimally articulate his
reasons for crediting or rejecting evidence of
disability." Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863,
870 (7th Cir. 2000). But even when adequate record evidence
exists to support the ALJ's decision, the decision will
not be affirmed if the ALJ does not build ...