United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey T. Gilbert United States Magistrate Judge.
David A. ("Claimant") seeks review of the final
decision of Respondent Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"),
denying Claimant's application for Supplemental Security
Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local
Rule 73.1, the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of
a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings,
including entry of final judgment. [ECF No. 8.] The parties
have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. [ECF Nos. 15,
20.] This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c). For the reasons stated
below, Claimant's Motion [ECF No. 15] is granted in part,
and the Commissioner's Motion [ECF No. 20] is denied. The
Commissioner's decision is reversed, and the case is
remanded for further proceedings consistent with this
Memorandum Opinion and Order.
filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
("DIB") and SSI on August 6, 2014, alleging
disability beginning January 1, 2009. (R. 15.) Claimant's
applications were denied initially on November 18, 2014, and
upon reconsideration on March 18, 2015, after which Claimant
requested a hearing before an administrative law judge
("ALJ"). (Id.) On May 16, 2017, Claimant,
represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing
before ALJ Matthew Johnson. (R. 15, 35-37.) The ALJ also
heard testimony from vocational expert ("VE") Lee
O. Knutson. (Id.) At the hearing, Claimant, through
his attorney, amended his alleged disability onset date to
August 6, 2014. (R. 15.) Because this date was after
Claimant's date last insured for DIB purposes (March 31,
2009), the amendment effectively withdrew Claimant's DIB
30, 2017, the ALJ denied Claimant's claim for SSI. (R.
12-32.) The opinion followed the five-step evaluation process
required by Social Security regulations. See 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found that
Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
("SGA") since his alleged disability onset date of
August 6, 2014. (R. 17.) At step two, the ALJ found that
Claimant had the following severe impairments: degenerative
disc disease of the lumbar spine, attention deficit
disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and
depression. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that
Claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equasl the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. (R. 17-19.) The ALJ then determined that
Claimant had the residual functional capacity
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except the claimant can never climb ladders, ropes
or scaffolds and can only occasionally climb ramps and
stairs. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch and crawl. The claimant can frequently reach overhead
with his right and left upper extremities. The claimant can
reach in all other directions on a frequent basis with his
right and left upper extremities. The claimant can frequently
handle and finger with his left hand and can frequently
handle and finger with his right hand. The claimant can
occasionally work in hazardous environments such as around
unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts and operate a
commercial motor vehicle. The claimant can assume no position
for longer than forty-five minutes. If the claimant does need
to sit, stand or walk for forty-five minutes at one time, he
must be allowed to assume a different position for five
minutes before resuming the prior position without abandoning
his workstation or losing concentration on his assigned work
duties. The claimant can understand, carry out, remember and
perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks; involving only
simple, work-related decisions with the ability to adapt only
to routine workplace changes.
four, the ALJ determined that Claimant did not have any past
relevant work. (R. 25.) Then, at step five, the ALJ
determined that there were jobs that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy that Claimant can perform,
such as assembler and cashier. (R. 25-26.) Because of this
determination, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled.
(R. 26.) The Appeals Council declined to review the matter on
May 23, 2018 (R. 1-5), making the ALJ's decision the
final decision of the Commissioner and, therefore, reviewable
by this Court under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3). See Haynes v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621,
626 (7th Cir. 2005).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
decision by an ALJ becomes the Commissioner's final
decision if the Appeals Council denies a request for review.
Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000). Judicial
review is limited to determining whether the ALJ's
decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record
and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards in
reaching his or her decision. See Nelms v. Astrue,
553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009). The reviewing court may
enter a judgment "affirming, modifying, or reversing the
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or
without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C.
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)
(internal quotations omitted). A "mere scintilla"
of evidence is not enough. Scott v. Barnhart, 297
F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002). Even where there is adequate
evidence in the record to support an ALJ's decision, it
will not be upheld if the ALJ did not "build an accurate
and logical bridge from the evidence to [his]
conclusion." Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936,
941 (7th Cir. 2002) (internal quotations omitted). In other
words, if the ALJ's decision lacks evidentiary support or
adequate discussion of the issues, it cannot stand. See
Villcmo v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir. 2009).
Though the standard of review is deferential, a reviewing
court must "conduct a critical review of the
evidence" before affirming the ALJ's decision.
Eichsiadi v. Astrue, 534 F.3d 663, 665 (7th Cir.
2008) (internal quotations omitted). The reviewing court may
not, however, "displace the ALJ's judgment by
reconsidering facts or evidence, or by making independent
credibility determinations." Elder v. Astrue,
529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
appeal, Claimant asserts that: (1) the ALJ erred in rejecting
the opinion of his treating physician and by relying upon the
outdated opinion of a non-examining state agency consultant;
and (2) the ALJ erred in evaluating Claimant's subjective
symptom allegations and by failing to address the third-party
report of Claimant's friend, Linda Rizzute. [ECF No. 16]
at 1, 10-18.
The Treating Physician's Opinion
first contends that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion
of his treating physician, Dr. Larry Najera. [ECF No. 16] at
11-15. An ALJ must give controlling weight to a treating
physician's opinion if it is both
"well-supported" and "not inconsistent with
the other substantial evidence" in the case
record. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2); see
Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 2011).
Because a treating physician has "greater familiarity
with the claimant's condition and circumstances," an
ALJ "must offer good reasons for discounting a treating
physician's opinion." Campbell v. Astrue,
627 F.3d 299, 306 (7th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations
omitted); Gudgel v. Barnhari, 345 F.3d 467, 470 (7th
Cir. 2003). Those reasons must be "supported by
substantial evidence in the record; a contrary opinion of a
non-examining source does not, by itself, suffice."
Gudgel, 345 F.3d at 470.
if an ALJ gives good reasons for not giving controlling
weight to a treating physician's opinion, she has to
decide what weight to give that opinion."
Campbell, 627 F.3d at 308. To do this, the ALJ must,
by regulation, consider a variety of factors, including: (1)
the length of the treatment relationship and frequency of
examination; (2) the nature and extent of the treatment
relationship; (3) the extent to which medical evidence
supports the opinion; (4) the degree to which the opinion is
consistent with the entire record; (5) whether the physician
was a specialist in the relevant area; and (6) other factors
that validate or contradict the opinion. Scrogham v.
Calvin,765 F.3d 685, 697 (7th Cir. 2014); 20 ...