United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Western Division
BARBARA K. K.,  Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
D. Johnston, United States Magistrate Judge
Barbara K. K. brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) seeking remand of the decision denying her social
security benefits. For the reasons below, Plaintiff's
motion for summary judgment is denied, the Commissioner's
motion for summary judgment is granted, and the ALJ's
decision is affirmed.
filed the application for disability benefits subject to this
appeal on May 8, 2015. R. 242. She alleged a June 18, 2010
disability onset date caused by Hashimoto thyroiditis,
spinal stenosis, arm impairments, fibromyalgia, digestive
issues, and vertigo. R. 271. She later amended her alleged
onset date to April 28, 2012. R. 17, 96-97. She alleged that
she stopped working because of her impairments on June 18,
2010. R. 271. Plaintiff's date last insured is December
31, 2015. R. 19. On July 18, 2017, Plaintiff, represented by
counsel,  appeared for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). She was then 54
years old. R. 95. At the hearing, she testified about her
work history, education, and symptoms, including migraines of
varying severity, dizziness, memory issues, chronic
fibromyalgia pain, knee and shoulder pain. R. 95-121.
the hearing, the ALJ followed the five-step evaluation
process set forth by the Social Security Administration in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) and found that the Plaintiff was
not disabled. The ALJ specifically found the following: (1)
at Step One, that Plaintiff had not engaged in any
substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of
April 28, 2012, R. 20; (2) at Step Two, that Plaintiff had
“the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia,
degenerative disk disease of the cervical spine, migraine
headaches, right-sided trigger finger, Hashimoto thyroiditis,
and obesity, ” id.; (3) at Step Three, that
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or equaled any listed impairment, R.
22-23; (4) that Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1567(a) except that she could never climb ramps
and stairs, could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crawl,
crouch and reach overhead with her bilateral upper
extremities, could frequently handle and finger with her
right upper extremity, must avoid concentrated exposure to
extreme heat and cold, excessive humidity, wetness,
vibration, noise, fumes, odors, dusts and gases, and must
avoid unprotected heights or machinery with moving parts, R.
24; (5) and at Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could
perform her past relevant work as a customer service trainer
as defined in the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles. R. 29.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing court may enter judgment “affirming,
modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner ,
with or without remanding the cause for rehearing.” 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). The Commissioner's denial of
disability is conclusive when supported by substantial
evidence. Id.; Skinner v. Astrue, 487 F.3d
836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence
“means-and means only-'such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139
S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co.
v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The Court may
not displace the ALJ's judgment by reconsidering facts
and evidence, reweighing evidence, or by making independent
credibility determinations. Overman v. Astrue, 546
F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008); Elder v. Astrue, 529
F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). Similarly, even if reasonable
minds could differ on whether a claimant is disabled, a
reviewing court must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is
adequately supported. Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d
503, 513 (7th Cir. 2009).
review of an ALJ's decision is not a rubber stamp of
approval. Biestek, 139 S.Ct. at 1154 (“mere
scintilla” not substantial evidence). The court must
critically review the ALJ's decision. Eichstadt v.
Astrue, 534 F.3d 663, 665 (7th Cir. 2008). The ALJ's
conclusion will not be affirmed where he fails to build a
logical bridge between the evidence and his conclusion, even
if evidence exists in the record to support that conclusion.
Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008);
Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir.
2002) (where opinion is “so poorly articulated as to
prevent meaningful review” the case must be remanded).
Additionally, courts may not build a logical bridge for the
ALJ. Mason v. Colvin, 13 CV 2993, 2014 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 152938, at *19-20 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 29, 2014).
engaging in substantive analysis, the Court notes the general
and conclusory nature of Plaintiff's briefs. For
instance, the opening brief limits its legal arguments to the
last four pages, and even that consists of only vague and
conclusory arguments, jumping from point to point with little
to no development, and, in some instances, unsupported by
relevant case or record citations. See Dkt.
It is neither the Commissioner's nor this Court's
obligation to rebuild such poorly constructed arguments.
See, e.g., Martinez v. Colvin, 12 CV 50016,
2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41754, *24-28 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 28, 2014)
(internal citations omitted); see also Olivas v.
Berryhill, 17 CV 50197, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 211743, at
*12-13 (N.D. Ill.Dec. 17, 2018). Plaintiff's counsel
risks forfeiting similar arguments in the future by failing
to adequately brief and develop them. Regardless, the Court
has attempted to construe Plaintiff's arguments to
meaningfully evaluate them where possible.
argues the ALJ erred by cherry-picking facts that support his
finding that Plaintiff is not disabled while ignoring
evidence that might support a disability finding. Dkt. 14 at
8 (citing O'Connor-Spinner v. Colvin, 832 F.3d
690, 697 (7th Cir. 2016)). For instance, Plaintiff claims the
ALJ improperly ignored her and her husband's testimony
regarding her activities of daily living “on numerous
occasions.” Id. Even a cursory glance at the
ALJ's decision reveals that this argument is meritless.
Along with addressing the relevant functional reports
Plaintiff completed throughout her medical treatment history,
which the ALJ is permitted to do under the regulations,
ALJ discussed and considered both Plaintiff's and her
husband's hearing testimony. R. 25, 28-29 referring to R.
102-24, 295-302, 319-23, 336, 347- 49. The ALJ found
Plaintiff's subjective complaints “less than fully
consistent with the entirety of the evidence with respect to
the severity of symptoms and limitations associated with her
impairments.” R. 28. In his credibility analysis, the
ALJ gave three main reasons for discounting Plaintiff's
subjective complaints: (1) Plaintiff complained of frequent
days of disabling symptom levels, yet her doctors regularly
reported no unusual fatigue, distress, gait, coordination, or
leg strength, and rarely (twice) observed vertigo symptoms
throughout her treatment history; (2) Plaintiff regularly
reported severe migraines to treaters, yet she never
presented with one or with any photophobia evincing the same;
and (3) Plaintiff admitted to being able to do various home
activities (meal preparation, driving, shopping, chores,
teaching a class at her church, dancing, woodworking) that
belied “a complete inability to perform sedentary
work.” Id. Additionally, instead of
ignoring Plaintiff's husband's opinion regarding the
severity of Plaintiff's limitations, the ALJ gave his
opinion “little weight” and cited the same
reasons for discounting this opinion as he did for
discounting Plaintiff's. Id.
Court views an ALJ's credibility determination with
deference and will reverse that determination only when it is
“patently wrong.” Curvin v. Colvin, 778
F.3d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 2015); Jones v. Astrue, 623
F.3d 1155, 1160 (7th Cir. 2010); Craft v. Astrue,
539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008). When evaluating a
claimant's subjective symptoms, an ALJ should consider
the medications taken, functional limitations, allegations of
pain, aggravating factors, objective medical evidence, and
daily activities. Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d
731, 738 (7th Cir. 2006); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(3);
SSR 16-3p. Notably, Plaintiff does not take issue with any of
the specific justifications offered by the ALJ for
discounting her subjective complaints and her husband's
testimony. Regardless, they are all valid reasons for
discounting these opinions absent any argument to the
contrary. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c), (f);
404.1529(c)(3). And the ALJ relied on and discussed
substantial evidence to support his assertions regarding
Plaintiff's reports to her doctors and their medical
findings. See SSR 16-3p; R. 24-29, 102-24, 295-302,
319-23, 347-49, 716, 744, 761, 772, 790, 798, 813-16, 822,
825, 863-64, 870, 877, 881, 883-85, 957-59, 974, 979-80, 985,
991-92, 997-98, 1004-05, 1017, 1022, 1025, 1034, 1041-42,
1051, 1059-60, 1091-92, 1099-1100, 1110-11, 1117-18, 1207-09,
1258, 1261-63. The ALJ considered Plaintiff's complaints
to doctors throughout her treatment history as well as her
hearing testimony and her husband's opinions regarding
the same. The ALJ discounted both and gave valid reasons for
doing so which Plaintiff does not challenge. Therefore, the
ALJ did not err by ignoring Plaintiff's subjective
complaints or her husband's testimony.
Plaintiff next argues that the ALJ “failed to mention
the effect of [her] Hashimoto thyroiditis” and that
this condition “could have caused many of the
subjective complaints [she] had.” Dkt. 14 at 8.
In support, Plaintiff cites to one page of the the ALJ's
decision (R. 28) and one page of Plaintiff's hearing
testimony where she claimed she was spending 20 hours in bed
per day due to fatigue (R. 101). However, the ALJ accepted
the medical diagnosis of Hashimoto thyroiditis and found it
to be a severe impairment. R. 20, 26. Throughout his opinion,
the ALJ discussed and cited to the medical evidence relating
to-and Plaintiff's complaints to her treaters of-vertigo,
extreme fatigue, weakness, and memory issues, before finding
Plaintiff's subjective complaints related to these
limitations not entirely consistent with the record. R.
24-29, 296-302, 553-55, 882, 973-75, 978-80, 985, 991-92,
997-98, 1004- 05, 1017, 1025, 1034, 1041-42, 1051, 1060,
1092, 1100, 1110-11, 1208-09. Thus, the ALJ did not ignore
this impairment or Plaintiff's subjective complaints that
“could” be related to it. As discussed
above, the ALJ gave valid reasons for discounting
Plaintiff's subjective complaints that Plaintiff does not
challenge. Plaintiff has identified no clear basis to find
the ALJ erred when evaluating Plaintiff's subjective
complaints related to Hashimoto thyroiditis.
next argues the ALJ erred by substituting his own opinions
for those of the medical professionals and making his own
medical judgments. Dkt. 14 at 7, 9 (citing Back v.
Barnhart, 63 Fed.Appx. 254, 259 (7th Cir. 2003);
Whitney v. Schwieker, 695 F.2d 784, 787 (1982)). For
example, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to account for
“several times when the [she] had issues walking
because both of her dizziness and lower leg weakness, ”
citing to a treatment note she contends the ALJ
“clearly overlooked.” Id. at 9. However,
not only does the ALJ have no duty to evaluate every single
piece of evidence in the record, Kastner v. Astrue,