United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MARTHA L. S.,  Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
G. WILKERSON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff seeks
judicial review of the final agency decision denying her
application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 423.
applied for DIB and SSI in December 2014, alleging a
disability onset date of September 15, 2014. After holding an
evidentiary hearing, an ALJ denied the application on
November 22, 2017. (Tr. 17-31). The Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's
decision the final agency decision subject to judicial
review. (Tr. 1). Plaintiff exhausted administrative remedies
and filed a timely complaint with this Court.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following issues:
1. The ALJ's analysis of the opinion evidence is legally
insufficient, and his decision to rely on the state agency
doctor's opinion and discount plaintiff's treating
provider's opinions, was not supported by substantial
2. The ALJ's residual functional capacity (RFC)
assessment is not supported by substantial evidence.
3. The ALJ's analysis of plaintiff's subjective
symptoms is legally insufficient.
qualify for DIB or SSI, a claimant must be disabled within
the meaning of the applicable statutes. Under the Social
Security Act, a person is disabled if she 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 her
former occupation? and (5) Is the plaintiff unable to perform
any other work? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
affirmative answer at either step 3 or step 5 leads to a
finding that the plaintiff is disabled. A negative answer at
any step, other than at step 3, precludes a finding of
disability. The plaintiff bears the burden of proof at steps
1-4. Once the plaintiff shows an inability to perform past
work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to show the
plaintiff's ability to engage in other work existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001).
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). The Supreme Court defines substantial
evidence as “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 citations omitted).
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 September 15, 2014, and
she was insured for DIB only through December 31, 2016. The
ALJ found that plaintiff had severe impairments of COPD,
obesity, degenerative joint disease, degenerative disc
disease, and microvascular dysfunction.
found that plaintiff had the RFC to do light work, but she
could occasionally lift/carry 25 pounds, and frequently
lift/carry 20 pounds. She should avoid concentrated exposure
to extreme cold, humidity, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and
on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that
plaintiff was not able to do her past relevant work. However,
she was not disabled because she was able to do other jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.
Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary
record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The
following summary of the record is directed to the points
raised by plaintiff.
originally alleged that she became disabled as of September
2017, she changed her alleged onset date to February 15,
2014. (Tr. 231). Plaintiff was born in 1963 and was about to
turn 54 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. (Tr.
232). She said she was disabled because of COPD, chronic
bronchitis, psoriasis on the hands and feet, arthritis, GERD,
depression, and a heart condition. She was 5' 9”
tall and weighed 215 pounds. She stopped working in September
2011. (Tr. 236). She had worked in the past as a cook in a
fast food restaurant and a factory line worker. (Tr. 265).
was represented by an attorney at the hearing in July 2017.
testified that she was 5' 8” tall and weighed about
200 pounds. Her weight went up and down, sometimes going up
or down 30 to 40 pounds. She lived with her husband, adult
son, and two grandchildren, ages 3 and 4. (Tr. 45-48, 61).
said she could not work because of breathing problems from
COPD and emphysema, back problems, and psoriasis on her hands
and feet. (Tr. 55). She got ultraviolet light treatments for
psoriasis. She used inhalers for COPD, which helped “a
lot, ” but it was hard for her to be outside in very
hot weather. (Tr. 56).
the psoriasis on her hands flared up, it was itchy and made
it difficult to grip things. It usually ran its course. Her
UV therapy appointments were usually at 8:10 in the morning.
(Tr. 62-63). Her back started hurting if she stood for 45
minutes to an hour. Her knees were “fine.” She
was able to walk to church, which was 7 or 8 blocks, but had
to go slowly. She had chest pain if she was stressed. She
could sit comfortably through a one-hour TV show. She did not