United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
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 her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
applied for disability benefits in September 2013, alleging
disability as of March 6, 2013. After holding an evidentiary
hearing, an ALJ denied the application in January 2016. (Tr.
9-30). Plaintiff sought judicial review, and the case was
remanded to the agency. (Tr. 1271-1287). On remand, the same
ALJ again denied the application in October 2018. That
decision is the final agency decision now subject to judicial
review. (Tr. 1165-1181). Administrative remedies have been
exhausted and a timely complaint was filed in this Court.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following points:
1. The ALJ erred in assessing plaintiff's RFC because he
ignored her use of prescription pain medications and
referrals to pain management and orthopedic specialists.
2. The ALJ failed to consider whether plaintiff was entitled
to a closed period of disability.
qualify for DIB, 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. § 423(d)(1)(a).
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). 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 from the alleged onset date
through her date lase insured, December 31, 2017. He found
that plaintiff had severe impairments of lung cancer with
surgical intervention, in remission; COPD; left shoulder and
upper extremity impairment, including left shoulder brachial
plexopathy; and degenerative disc disease of the cervical
spine. He also found that her mental impairments
of affective disorder and anxiety disorder were not severe.
found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform work at the light exertional level with a
number of physical limitations. As is relevant here, she was
limited to only occasional fingering, handling, and feeling
with her left upper extremity and no overhead reaching with
her left upper extremity. Based on the testimony of a vocational
expert, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff could not do her
past work, but she was not disabled because she was able to
do other jobs which exist in significant numbers in the
national and regional economies.
Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary
record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The
following summary of the ...