United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DAVID WEISMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
G. brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for
judicial review of the Social Security Administration’s
(“SSA’s”) decision denying her application
for benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the Court
reverses the SSA’s decision.
applied for benefits on May 18, 2015, alleging a disability
onset date of April 26, 2015. (R. 100.) Her application was
denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. 108, 125.)
Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held by an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on May 23, 2017.
(See R. 36-84.) In a decision dated December 29,
2017, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (R.
15-25.) The Appeals Council declined review (R. 1-4), making
the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the SSA,
reviewable by this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Court reviews the ALJ’s decision deferentially,
affirming if it is supported by “substantial evidence
in the record, ” i.e., “‘such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.’” White v.
Sullivan, 965 F.2d 133, 136 (7th Cir. 1992) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).
“Although this standard is generous, it is not entirely
uncritical, ” and the case must be remanded if the
“decision lacks evidentiary support.” Steele
v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).
the Social Security Act, disability is defined as the
“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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). The regulations prescribe a five-part
sequential test for determining whether a claimant is
disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a),
416.920(a). The SSA must consider whether: (1) the claimant
has performed any substantial gainful activity during the
period for which he claims disability; (2) the claimant has a
severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) the
claimant’s impairment meets or equals any listed
impairment; (4) the claimant retains the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform his past relevant
work; and (5) the claimant is able to perform any other work
existing in significant numbers in the national economy.
Id.; see Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881,
885 (7th Cir. 2001).
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
(R. 18.) At step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has
the severe impairments of right leg fracture and right arm
injury. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that
plaintiff’s impairments do not meet or medically equal
the severity of a listed impairment. (R. 19.) At step four,
the ALJ found that plaintiff has no past relevant work but
has the RFC to perform sedentary work with certain
exceptions. (R. 20, 23.) At step five, the ALJ found that
jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that plaintiff can perform, and thus she is not disabled. (R.
contends that her anxiety and depression are severe
impairments, i.e., they “significantly limit
[her] . . . mental ability to do basic work activities”
20 C.F.R. § 404.1522(a), and the ALJ’s contrary
conclusion is not supported by substantial evidence. The
Court agrees. The ALJ said these impairments are not severe
because: (1) plaintiff’s benefit applications do not
say that these conditions are disabling; (2) she is able to
socialize with friends and family and attend monthly
doctors’ appointments; (3) a note from a medical visit
shows that she had “unremarkable mood, affect, speech,
thought process, and no psychomotor activity”; (4) she
stopped taking psychiatric medications; and (5) the agency
consultants found plaintiff’s anxiety to be non-severe.
the record shows that plaintiff asked the Commissioner to
make a decision on her applications without considering her
mental impairments not because the impairments were
non-severe but because she would likely miss the consultative
exam. (See R. 87-88.) Second, as the Seventh Circuit
has emphasized, plaintiff’s ability to socialize and
attend doctors’ appointments has little, if any,
bearing on whether her mental impairments significantly limit
her ability to work. See Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d
631, 639 (7th Cir. 2013) (“We have repeatedly cautioned
that a person’s ability to perform daily activities,
especially if that can be done only with significant
limitations, does not necessarily translate into an ability
to work full-time.”); Mason v. Barnhart, 325
F.Supp.2d 885, 904 (E.D. Wis. 2004) (“One can be
disabled and yet get together with friends from time to time.
Disability does not mean that a claimant must vegetate in a
dark room excluded from all forms of human and social
activity.”) (quotation and citations omitted). Third,
the medical evidence regarding plaintiff’s mental state
cited by the ALJ is a one-sentence notation from a doctor she
visited for chest pain (R. 18, 6432), not for a mental health
evaluation. Fourth, plaintiff testified that she stopped
taking psychiatric medications because “it was hard for
[her] to get to the providers that [she] need[ed] because of
[her] insurance” (R. 64), an issue the ALJ was required
to, but did not, explore during the hearing or mention in his
decision. See Beardsley v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 834, 840
(7th Cir. 2014) (“[T]he ALJ may not draw any inferences
about a claimant’s condition from [her] failure [to
obtain treatment] unless the ALJ has explored the
claimant’s explanations as to the lack of medical
care.”) (quotation omitted). Finally, the agency
consultants’ opinions are inconsistent, describing
anxiety as a severe impairment at the initial level and a
non-severe impairment at the reconsideration level.
(Compare R. 88, with R. 121.) In short, the
ALJ’s proffered reasons for concluding that
plaintiff’s mental impairments are not severe are
unsupported or otherwise insufficient.
even if the ALJ’s conclusion that plaintiff’s
mental impairments are not severe were correct, the case
would still have to be remanded because he failed to
incorporate in the RFC any limitations with respect to these
impairments. (See R. 20); see also Denton v.
Astrue, 596 F.3d 419, 423 (7th Cir. 2010) (“When
determining a claimant’s RFC, the ALJ must consider the
combination of all limitations on the ability to work,
including those that do not individually rise to the level of
a severe impairment. . . . [and the] failure to fully
consider the impact of non-severe impairments requires
reversal.”). The ALJ’s failure to account for the
mild limitations he said plaintiff has in understanding,
remembering and applying information, interacting with
others, concentrating, persisting, and maintaining pace, and
adapting and managing herself (see R. 19) would
require a remand, even if the ALJ’s decision were
reasons set forth above, the Court grants plaintiffs motion
for summary judgment , denies the SSA’s motion for
summary judgment , reverses the SSA’s decision, and
remands this case for further proceedings consistent with
this Memorandum Opinion and Order pursuant to sentence four
of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).