United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division
DARROW CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Silvia M. filed an application for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income. The Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration (“the
Commissioner”) denied her application and Silvia seeks
judicial review of this decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). See Compl., ECF No. 1. Before the Court are
Silvia’s Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 13, the
Commissioner’s Motion for Summary Affirmance, ECF No.
19, and Magistrate Judge Jonathan Hawley’s Report and
Recommendation (“R&R”), ECF No. 21, which
recommends denying Silvia’s motion and granting the
Commissioner’s. Silvia objects to the R&R.
See Objection, ECF No. 23. The Commissioner has
responded to Silvia’s objection. See Resp.
Objection, ECF No. 25. For the reasons that follow, the
Objection is OVERRULED and the R&R is ADOPTED.
Silvia’s Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED and the
Commissioner’s Motion for Summary Affirmance is
Report and Recommendation
magistrate judge considers a pretrial matter dispositive of a
party’s claim or defense, he must enter a recommended
disposition. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(1). Parties may object within
fourteen days of being served with a copy of the recommended
disposition. Id. 72(b)(2). The district judge
considers de novo the portions of the recommended disposition
that were properly objected to, and may accept, reject, or
modify the recommended disposition, or return it to the
magistrate judge for further proceedings. Id.
72(b)(3). If no objection, or only partial objection, is
made, the district judge reviews the unobjected portions of
the recommendation for clear error only. Johnson v. Zema
Sys. Corp., 170 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 1999). The
district judge “may reconsider sua sponte any
matter determined by a magistrate judge” even if no
party objects. Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs.,
Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 760 (7th Cir. 2009).
R&R sets forth the relevant procedural background,
including an overview of the administrative law judge’s
(“ALJ”) decision, see R&R
1–14, so the Court will not repeat that discussion
here. The R&R also sets forth the four arguments Silvia
makes in her summary judgment motion:
1) the ALJ erred by failing to build a logical bridge between
Silvia’s cane usage, Dr. Eilers’ opinion, Dr.
DePhillips’ opinion, and Dr. Shepherd’s opinion
to the conclusion Silvia is not disabled; 2) the ALJ
committed harmful legal error in the [residual functional
capacity] [(“]RFC[”)] assessment; 3) the ALJ
committed harmful legal error by failing to apply the Medical
Vocational Guidelines (Grid) Rule 201.17; and 4) the
A[ppeals] C[ouncil] committed harmful reversible error
because it failed to include within the administrative record
new and material evidence with a reasonable probability that
the evidence would change the outcome of the decision.
Id. at 14. Judge Hawley recommends rejecting all
four arguments and affirming the ALJ’s decision.
Id. at 27. Silvia objects to Judge Hawley’s
analysis of her first three arguments. The Court reviews
those issues de novo. The Court has reviewed the remainder of
the R&R for clear error and found none.
court reviews a decision denying benefits to determine only
whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and
whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s
decision. Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668
(7th Cir. 2004). An ALJ commits an error of law if his
decision “fails to comply with the Commissioner’s
regulations and rulings.” Brown v. Barnhart,
298 F.Supp.2d 773, 779 (E.D. Wis. 2004). Substantial evidence
means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
McKinzey v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 884, 889 (7th Cir.
2011) (quotation marks omitted). The court cannot reweigh the
evidence, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its
own judgment, but must “nonetheless conduct a critical
review of the evidence.” Id. “In
rendering a decision, an ALJ is not required to provide a
complete and written evaluation of every piece of testimony
and evidence, but must build a logical bridge from the
evidence to his conclusion.” Minnick v.
Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 935 (7th Cir. 2015) (quotation
marks omitted). The court must “be able to trace the
path of the ALJ’s reasoning from evidence to
conclusion.” Aranda v. Berryhill, 312 F.Supp.
3d 685, 689 (N.D. Ill. 2018).
argues that “[t]he ALJ played doctor in concluding the
medical evidence does not support her need for a cane despite
her presenting to appointments using the cane.”
Objection 3. “ALJs must not succumb to the temptation
to play doctor and make their own independent medical
findings.” Rohan v. Chater, 98 F.3d 966, 970
(7th Cir. 1996). “Typical cases of ALJs impermissibly
playing doctor are when they either reject a doctor’s
medical conclusion without other evidence or when they draw
medical conclusions themselves about a claimant without
relying on medical evidence.” Back v.
Barnhart, 63 Fed.Appx. 254, 259 (7th Cir. 2003)
(quotation marks and citation omitted); Dixon v.
Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1177 (7th Cir. 2001)
(“The cases in which we have reversed because an ALJ
impermissibly ‘played doctor’ are ones in which
the ALJ failed to address relevant evidence.”).
“playing doctor” principle does not apply here.
No. doctor prescribed a cane to Silvia or recommended that
she use one, so the ALJ did not reject a medical conclusion.
Cf. Czarnecki v. Colvin, 595 Fed.Appx. 635,
644–45 (7th Cir. 2015) (“[O]ne of [the
plaintiff’s] physicians, after more than a year of
treating her, had prescribed a cane, and the ALJ
impermissibly ‘played doctor’ by substituting her
own opinion that a cane really wasn’t
necessary.”). The ALJ noted Silvia’s testimony
that she needed to use a cane, R. 33,  and that she
sometimes presented to doctor’s appointments with a
cane, R. 29. But she found that the record did not support
ongoing use of the cane. Id. This is supported by
substantial evidence. Records document Silvia presenting with
a cane only for a brief period of time in 2015. See
R. 474 (July 7, 2015); R. 441 (August 10, 2015). And there is
medical evidence in the record that conflicts with the
necessity to use a cane to walk. See, e.g., R. 396
(Dr. Carlton observing that she could walk more than 50 feet
without assistance). The ALJ was “allowed to . . .
weigh the evidence and make appropriate inferences from the
record.” Seamon v. Astrue, 364 Fed.Appx. 243,
247 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Young v. Barnhart, 362
F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004)). The Court can follow the
ALJ’s reasoning and cannot reweigh the evidence to come
to a different conclusion.
Medical Opinion Evidence
argues that the ALJ erred in assessing the treating
physicians’ opinions. Objection 3. Social Security
regulations provide that an ALJ will “evaluate every
medical opinion [the Social Security Administration]
receive[s].” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c). “If [th]e [ALJ] find[s] that a
treating source’s medical opinion on the issue(s) of
the nature and severity of your impairment(s) is
well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with
the other substantial evidence in your case record, [sh]e
will give it controlling weight.” Id. §
404.1527(c)(2). If the ALJ does not give the treating
source’s opinion controlling weight, she must consider
the following factors in determining how much weight to give
it: length and extent of the treatment relationship,
id. § 404.1527(c)(2)(i)– (ii); how much
relevant evidence is presented to support the opinion,
id. § 404.1527(c)(3); how consistent the
opinion is with the record as a whole, id. §
404.1527(c)(4); whether the source is a specialist in the
area of her opinion, id. § 404.1527(c)(5); and
any other factor brought to the Social Security
Administration’s attention, id. §
404.1527(c)(6). “[T]he ALJ must provide some
explanation for her decision to discount a ...