United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JEFFREY COLE MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§416(i), 423, over
four years ago. (Administrative Record (R.) 158-59). She
claimed that she became disabled as of October 22, 2013. (R.
158), due to a host of impairments, including
neurofibromatosis, congestive heart failure, degenerative
bone disease, asthma, migraines, depression, and PTSD. (R.
176). Over the ensuing four years, plaintiff’s
application was denied at every level of administrative
review: initial, reconsideration, administrative law judge
(ALJ), and appeals council. It is the ALJ’s decision
that is before the court for review. See 20 C.F.R.
§§404.955; 404.981. Plaintiff filed suit under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) on July 16, 2018, and the parties
consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) on September 14, 2018. [Dkt. #7].
The case was then reassigned to me four months later, on
January 10, 2019. [Dkt. # 15]. Plaintiff asks the court to
reverse and remand the Commissioner’s decision, while
the Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision.
was 51 years old at the time of the ALJ’s decision. (R.
27, 1587. She has an excellent work history, working steadily
from 1987 through 2014. (R. 166). For at least the last 15
years, she has worked as a medical billing coordinator. (R.
188). This was skilled, sedentary work, and involved
plaintiff supervising and training other employees. (R.
63-65, 243). Toward the end of her time there, she had a
breakdown triggered by her autistic daughter’s threats
of suicide, and she went on mental health disability leave.
The doctor okayed her to go back to work after about two
months, but she was only able to make it through one day when
she returned. (R. 49-50). She could no longer concentrate or
remember things properly, and was plagued by chronic
migraines along with light sensitivity. (R. 53-54). Owing to
her neurofibromatosis and degenerative bone disease, she is
unable to sit for more than two hours at a time or stand for
more than 30 minutes. (R. 56-57). Since leaving work, she
looks after her daughter and helps out her parents –
they all live together. (R. 55).
an administrative hearing – at which plaintiff,
represented by counsel, and a vocational expert testified
– the ALJ determined plaintiff was not disabled. The
ALJ found that plaintiff had a number of severe impairments:
“depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, asthma,
migraines, congestive heart failure, neurofibromatosis type
1, degenerative bone disease.” (R. 16). She also had
nonsevere impairments of vertigo and obesity. (R. 16-17).
Plaintiff’s psychological impairments caused mild
limitations in the areas of understanding, remembering, and
applying information and adapting or managing oneself; she
had moderate limitations interacting with others and
concentrating, persisting and maintaining pace. (R. 18). None
of plaintiff’s impairments, singly or in combination,
amounted to a condition that met or equaled an impairment
assumed to be disabling in the Commissioner’s listings.
then determined that plaintiff could perform “light
work . . . except involving: simple routine tasks; no
interaction with the public and only occasional interaction
with co-workers, but no tandem tasks or team tasks, or tasks
where one production step depends upon another; overhead
reaching bilaterally limited to frequent; occasional exposure
to odors, dust, fumes gases, and other pulmonary
irritants.” (R. 18). The ALJ summarized the
plaintiff’s allegations and found that her:
“medically determinable impairments could reasonably be
expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, [her]
statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting
effects of these symptoms are not entirely consistent with
the medical evidence and other evidence in the record for
reasons explained in this decision.” (R. 20). The ALJ
said plaintiff’s allegations were not entirely
consistent with the medical evidence or course of treatment,
which the ALJ felt was routine. (R. 20). She also later said
that plaintiff was involved in significant activities of
daily living, indicating greater function than she alleged.
(R. 24). The ALJ then went on to summarize the medical
evidence. (R. 21-23).
gave great weight to the opinions from the state agency
psychologists who reviewed the medical record, finding they
were consistent with the medical record as a whole. (R. 24).
She accorded little weight to the reviewing doctors in regard
to plaintiff’s physical limitations because they felt
plaintiff had no severe impairments, and the ALJ disagreed.
(R. 24). The ALJ gave little weight to the assessments of
plaintiff’s treating psychologist that plaintiff was
essentially unable to work, because it was based on
plaintiff’s subjective reports and contrary to the
records of mental status exams and routine treatment. (R.
24). Finally, the ALJ gave partial weigh to the consulting
physician who examined plaintiff in connection with her
application for benefits. (R. 25). She found the
doctor’s report not particularly useful as it failed to
address plaintiff’s limitations in terms of functional
capacity. (R. 25).
the ALJ, relying on the testimony of the vocational expert,
found that plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant
light and sedentary work, although she did not explain why
that was. (R. 25). The ALJ further relied on the testimony of
the vocational expert who said that an individual with
plaintiff’s restrictions could perform work as
“assembler production” (DOT #706.687-010; 180,
000 jobs nationally); packing line worker (DOT #753.687-038;
400, 000 jobs); and “folder garment” (DOT
#789.687-066; 3000 jobs). (R. 26). As these jobs exist in
significant numbers in the national economy, the ALJ found
that plaintiff was not disabled and was not entitled to
benefits under the Act. (R. 26-27).
ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial evidence,
the court on judicial review must uphold that decision even
if the court might have decided the case differently in the
first instance. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
Beardsley v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 834, 836 (7th Cir.
2014). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, the
court reviews the record as a whole but does not attempt to
substitute its judgment for the ALJ's by reweighing the
evidence, resolving material conflicts, or reconsidering
facts or the credibility of witnesses. Beardsley,
758 F.3d at 837. “Where conflicting evidence allows
reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is
entitled to benefits, ” the court must defer to the
Commissioner's resolution of that conflict. Binion v.
Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir.1997); Schloesser
v. Berryhill, 870 F.3d 712, 717 (7th Cir. 2017)
the Seventh Circuit, the ALJ also has an obligation to build
an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and the
result to afford the claimant meaningful judicial review of
the administrative findings. Varga v. Colvin, 794
F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 2015); O'Connor–Spinner
v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir.2010). The court
has to be able to trace the path of the ALJ’s reasoning
from evidence to conclusion. Minnick v. Colvin, 775
F.3d 929, 938 (7th Cir. 2015); Jelinek v. Astrue,
662 F.3d 805, 812 (7th Cir. 2011). Even if the court agrees
with the ultimate result, the case must be remanded if the
ALJ fails in his or her obligation to build that logical
bridge. Sarchet v. Chater, 78 F.3d 305, 307 (7th
Cir. 1996)(“. . . we cannot uphold a decision by an
administrative agency, any more than we can uphold a decision
by a district court, if, while there is enough evidence in
the record to support the decision, the reasons given by the
trier of fact do not build an accurate and logical bridge
between the evidence and the result.”); see also
Spiva v. Astrue, 628 F.3d 346, 353 (7th Cir.
2010)(“The government seems to think that if it can
find enough evidence in the record to establish that the
administrative law judge might have reached the same result
had she considered all the evidence and evaluated it as the
government's brief does, it is a case of harmless error.
But the fact that the administrative law judge, had she
considered the entire record, might have reached the same
result does not prove that her failure to consider the
evidence was harmless. Had she considered it carefully, she
might well have reached a different conclusion.”).
and foremost, this is another in a long line of what can be
called CPP cases – “concentration, persistence,
and pace.” As noted above, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff suffered a moderate limitation in concentrating,
persisting, or maintaining pace. (R. 18). But the ALJ did not
mention this in her residual functional capacity
determination, or in her hypothetical to the vocational
expert, opting instead to limit plaintiff to “simple,
routine tasks.” (R. 18, 65). The question is whether
“simple, routine tasks” accounts for a moderate
limitation in CPP. The answer from the Seventh Circuit, time
and time again, has been no. See Mischler v.
Berryhill, – Fed.App’x –, –,
2019 WL 1299948, at *5 (7th Cir. 2019)(“. . .
‘simple routine and repetitive tasks’ in a low
stress job . . . fails to account for the
‘moderate’ difficulties in concentration,
persistence, and pace . . . .”); DeCamp v.
Berryhill, 916 F.3d 671, 676 (7th Cir. 2019)(“. .
. we have “repeatedly rejected the notion that a
hypothetical ... confining the claimant to simple, routine
tasks and limited interactions with others adequately
captures temperamental deficiencies and limitations in
concentration, persistence, and pace.”); Win ...