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Elliott v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

September 27, 2019

RICHARD D. ELLIOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION

          RICHARD MILLS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Richard D. Elliot filed a claim for disability insurance benefits under Sections 216(I) and 223 of the Social Security Act and now seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for the denial of his claim at the administrative level.

         Pending are the Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and Defendant’s motion for summary affirmance.

         I. BACKGROUND

         At the time of his alleged onset date, the Plaintiff was 44-years old. He has a 10th grade education and has a combination of medical problems including right ankle bone fusion and infection, hernia repair surgery, insomnia, right hip pain, right knee pain, neck pain, generalized pain and fatigue. He also has depression and anxiety.

         The Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income in 2013, alleging disability beginning in July 2013. After his applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, the Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at the hearing in July 2016 before ALJ Stephan Bell.

         In August 2016, the ALJ issued a Decision finding that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of major depressive disorder; post-surgical complete ankylosis (fusion) in neutral position of the right ankle with extensive arthritic changes; right shoulder impingement; and cervical osteoarthritis. The ALJ found that none of the Plaintiff’s impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of sedentary work and could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy and was thus not disabled.

         In June 2017, the Appeals Council declined review, making the ALJ’s Decision the final decision for purposes of judicial review. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the ALJ’s decision.

         On appeal, the Plaintiff contends the ALJ failed to give controlling weight to the opinion of his treating physician, Dr. Jonathan L. Wilford. Moreover, the ALJ failed to give controlling weight to his treating psychiatrist, Dr. Erin Humphrey, D.O. The Plaintiff also contends the ALJ’s residual functional capacity assessment is not supported by substantial evidence. The Commissioner claims appropriate weight was given to the medical opinions and the ALJ’s residual functional capacity determination was reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When, as here, the Appeals Council denies review, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Schaaf v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 869, 874 (7th Cir. 2010). The Act specifies that “the findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence” is defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Yurt v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 850, 856 (7th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted). Although the task of a court is not to re-weigh evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ, the ALJ's decision “must provide enough discussion for [the Court] to afford [the Plaintiff] meaningful judicial review and assess the validity of the agency's ultimate conclusion.” Id. at 856-57. The ALJ “must build a logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion, but he need not provide a complete written evaluation of every piece of testimony and evidence.” Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         ALJ’s evaluation of medical opinions

         The Plaintiff alleges the ALJ failed to give controlling weight to the opinion of Dr. Wilford. While treating physicians are “usually entitled to controlling weight, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2); SSR 96-2p, [1] an ALJ may discredit the opinion if it is inconsistent with the record.” Winsted v. Berryhill, 923 F.3d 472, 478 (7th Cir. 2019). An ALJ must provide “good reasons” for discounting the opinion of a treating physician. Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 2011). When not entitled to controlling weight, an ALJ assigns a medical opinion appropriate weight after considering relevant factors, such as whether the opinion was supported by evidence, whether the opinion was consistent with the record as a whole, and the specifics of the treating relationship. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).

         After crushing his foot in bad car accident in 1998, the Plaintiff had six surgeries. He was seen at the Mayo Clinic in 2001 for a crushed tailor joint. The Plaintiff’s pain is aggravated by weight bearing and interferes with walking and daily activities. A CT scan on July 15, 2014 documents problems with the ankle which include a Varus deformity, a complex scar, extensive arthritis with two screws across the medial malleolus, a 6.5 screw across the subtalar joint, a possible non-union and likely infection.

         The pain clinic put the Plaintiff in counseling to deal with the mental health consequences of his chronic pain. In October 2015, he was diagnosed with osteopenia in x-rays at the pain clinic. The ...


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