United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey Cole Magistrate Judge.
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under
Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act
(“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(I), 423,
1381a, 1382c, about four years ago. (Administrative Record
(R.) 146-153). He claimed that he became disabled as of
January 30, 2009 (R. 146), due to a back injury, arthritis,
and diabetes. (R. 182). 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), and the parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) on November 27, 2018. . The
case was then reassigned to me a couple of months later on
January 10, 2019. [Dkt. #14]. Plaintiff asks the court to
reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision, while the
Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision.
was born on December 17, 1962, and was 47 at the time he
claims he became unable to work, and 51 at the time his
insured status expired. (R. 15, 146). He has a solid work
record, working consistently his entire adult life (R.
155-56), most recently as a delivery truck driver and a
school bus driver. (R. 183). The delivery job was heavy work,
involving delivering crates of gallons of milk weighing over
one hundred pounds. (R. 42, 53). The school bus driver job
was light work. (R. 53). He had leave the delivery job when
he hurt his back due to all the heavy lifting. (R.45).
Plaintiff can no longer stand for very long; at the most an
hour and a half at a time, but often no more than fifteen
minutes. (R. 50). He can't do a lot of walking. (R.
50-51). Plaintiff is 5' 11" and weighs over 300
pounds. (R. 50).
medical record covering plaintiff's treatment in this
case isn't terribly large at about 275 pages (R.
252-528), and the parties indicate that no more than a couple
dozen pages are pertinent to this case [Dkt. # 21, at 4-8],
so a brief summary will suffice. The record shows that, at
the time plaintiff quit working, he was suffering from disc
bulges at multiple locations in his lumbar spine,
spondylolisthesis, and degenerative arthritis. (R. 303). Over
time, he developed muscle spasms and his back impairment
began to interfere with his ability to walk to the extent
that his doctor certified a disability placard for his car.
(R. 289, 311). He had pain radiating down his legs and then
developed osteoarthritic knee pain. (R. 483-503). MRIs showed
mild chondromalacia, tendinosis, and edema. (R. 377-78).
Obviously, his weight exacerbated his problems. (R. 482).
Most recently, he developed nerve impingement and mild
arthritis in his right shoulder. (R. 367, 375). Along the
way, plaintiff was treated for the pain from all these issues
with multiple prescription narcotics (R. 287, 314, 414, 417,
419, 474, 476, 492, 518), and one injection after another.
(R. 367, 375, 382, 387, 392, 402, 455, 460, 475, 477).
an administrative hearing - at which plaintiff, represented
by counsel, and a vocational expert testified - the ALJ
determined he was not disabled. The ALJ found that plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: obesity, diabetes
mellitus, hypertension, spondylolisthesis, and sciatica. (R.
15). The ALJ then found that plaintiff's impairments,
either singly or in combination, did not meet or equal a
listed impairment assumed to be disabling in the
Commissioner's listings, referring specifically to
Listing 1.04 covering disorders of the spine. (R. 16).
then determined that plaintiff could perform light work light
work - which requires lifting/carrying 20 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently, standing/walking about six of eight
hours, sitting about six of eight hours - and could
frequently climb stairs and ramps, and occasionally climb
ropes and ladders. (R. 16). The ALJ then summarized the
medical record (R. 17-21), first saying that she found
plaintiff's “medically determinable impairments
could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms;
however, [his] statements concerning the intensity,
persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not
[she said] entirely consistent with the medical evidence and
other evidence in the record for reasons explained in this
decision.” (R. 17). Specifically, the ALJ cited
plaintiff's daily activities and his conservative
treatment as constituting that “other evidence.”
(R. 22). The ALJ then addressed the medical opinion evidence.
She gave little weight to the limitations found by
plaintiff's chiropractor, and little weight to the
opinion of plaintiff's treating physician that plaintiff
was severely limited in his ability to walk, saying it was
conclusory, did not provide a function-by-function analysis,
and was on a topic reserved for the Commissioner. (R. 22).
The ALJ also discarded the two opinions from the state agency
physicians who reviewed the record and determined there was
not enough evidence to render a decision one way or the
other. (R. 22).
the ALJ - relying on the testimony of the vocational expert -
found that plaintiff was capable of performing his past work
as a school bus driver because as he performed it, it was
light work. (R. 23). The ALJ also made the alternate finding
- again relying on the testimony of the vocational expert -
that plaintiff was capable of performing other jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy:
cashier (DOT #211.462-010, 500, 000 jobs), hotel housekeeper
(DOT #323.687-014, 150, 000 jobs), and sales attendant
(DOT#299.677-010). (R. 24). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded
that the plaintiff was not disabled and was not entitled to
DIB or SSI under the Act. (R. 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
what is called an “accurate and logical bridge”
between the evidence and the result in order 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.”).
all deference, we think there are some obvious problems with
the ALJ's decision and that a remand is required. First,
there is the ALJ's assessment of the plaintiff's
allegations of the limiting effects of his symptoms. The ALJ
rejected the extent of plaintiff's complaints based on
the medical evidence, his daily activities, and his course of
treatment. In all three facets, the ALJ either ...