United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
GREGORY L. R.,  Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
G. WILKERSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff,
represented by counsel, seeks judicial review of the final
agency decision denying his application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
applied for disability benefits in April 2015, alleging
disability as of January 31, 2015. The onset date was the day
after a prior application had been denied. After holding an
evidentiary hearing, an ALJ denied the application on
December 11, 2017. (Tr. 20-31). The Appeals Council denied
review, and the decision of the ALJ became the final agency
decision. (Tr. 1). Administrative remedies have been
exhausted and a timely complaint was filed in this Court.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following points:
1. The ALJ failed to consider all relevant medical evidence,
specifically, a full spine CT myelogram done in July 2016.
2. The ALJ erred in relying on outdated medical opinions.
qualify for DIB, a claimant must be disabled within the
meaning of the applicable statutes and regulations. Under the
Social Security Act, a person is disabled if he has an
“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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
determine whether a plaintiff is disabled, the ALJ considers
the following five questions in order: (1) Is the plaintiff
presently unemployed? (2) Does the plaintiff have a severe
impairment? (3) Does the impairment meet or medically equal
one of a list of specific impairments enumerated in the
regulations? (4) Is the plaintiff unable to perform his
former occupation? and (5) Is the plaintiff unable to perform
any other work? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
affirmative answer at either step three or step five leads to
a finding that the plaintiff is disabled. A negative answer
at any step, other than at step three, precludes a finding of
disability. The plaintiff bears the burden of proof at steps
one through four. Once the plaintiff shows an inability to
perform past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner
to show that there are jobs existing in significant numbers
in the national economy which plaintiff can perform.
Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir.
Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to ensure that
the decision is supported by substantial evidence and that no
mistakes of law were made. It is important to recognize that
the scope of review is limited. “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). Thus, this Court must determine not
whether plaintiff was, in fact, disabled at the relevant
time, but whether the ALJ's findings were supported by
substantial evidence and whether any errors of law were made.
Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539
(7th Cir. 2003). This Court uses the Supreme Court's
definition of substantial evidence, i.e., “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Biestek v.
Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (internal
reviewing for “substantial evidence, ” the entire
administrative record is taken into consideration, but this
Court does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts,
decide questions of credibility, or substitute its own
judgment for that of the ALJ. Burmester v.
Berryhill, 920 F.3d 507, 510 (7th Cir. 2019).
However, while judicial review is deferential, it is not
abject; this Court does not act as a rubber stamp for the
Commissioner. See, Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920,
921 (7th Cir. 2010), and cases cited therein.
Decision of the ALJ
followed the five-step analytical framework described above.
He determined that plaintiff had not worked at the level of
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date and
that he was insured for DIB only through June 30, 2017. He
found that plaintiff had severe impairments of lumbar,
cervical, and thoracic degenerative disc disease status post
multiple lumbar surgeries and a cervical surgery; dysthymic
disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; and pain disorder
associated with psychological factors and a medical
prior denial, a different ALJ had found that plaintiff was
limited to sedentary work. On this application, the ALJ found
that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to
perform work at the light exertional level, including
sitting/standing/walking for six out of eight hours per day.
He was capable of occasional climbing of ramps, stairs,
ladders, ropes and scaffolds; occasional stooping, kneeling,
crouching, and crawling; frequent ...