United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER 
A. Jensen, United States Magistrate Judge.
Michelle M. alleges that ongoing pain, numbness, and tingling
in her back, elbows, hips, hands, and feet prevent her from
working full-time. Plaintiff's doctors have offered a
series of possibly overlapping diagnoses to explain her
symptoms-including degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia,
psoriatic arthritis, diabetes, and carpal tunnel syndrome in
her right hand. But no single consistent diagnosis has yet
been settled upon. Plaintiff's treatment mostly took
place in the two years leading up to her hearing, and this
treatment occurred on a parallel track with the progression
of her legal case at the administrative level. For example,
she first began seeing a pain management specialist just a
month before the hearing. The late-breaking nature of this
treatment complicated the adjudication of plaintiff's
claim, mainly because 200 pages of treatment records were
submitted after the State agency doctors rendered their
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found that
plaintiff was not disabled based on two main rationales: (1)
the objective medical evidence-x-rays, MRIs, physical
examination findings-indicated only mild problems; and (2)
plaintiff had limited treatment that was likewise consistent
with only mild problems. Plaintiff raises numerous arguments
for remand, but her most encompassing argument is that the
ALJ improperly “played doctor” repeatedly
throughout the five-step analytical process. The
Government's main counter-argument is that any possible
errors were harmless. After reviewing the briefs, the Court
does not agree with all or even most of plaintiff's
contentions, but finds that overall plaintiff has raised
enough-just enough- concerns and questions to justify a
plaintiff has stated that some of her problems may have been
present since birth or even caused by a fall when she was six
years old, the relevant medical history for our purposes
begins in late December 2014 when plaintiff stopped working
because of her health problems. Her primary physician was Dr.
Schock. However, because plaintiff lost her health insurance
when she stopped working, she had to switch doctors. R. 55.
She then began seeing Dr. Dennis Norem who oversaw her care
in 2015 and 2016. Plaintiff saw him six times in total.
March 17, 2015, plaintiff filed disability applications under
Title II and XVI. Plaintiff was then 36 years old.
13, 2015, plaintiff was examined by Dr. K.P. Ramchandani, a
consultative examiner, who prepared a report that was later
relied on by the two State agency doctors. He made the
following findings, among others:
[Plaintiff's] gait is normal, unassisted. She is able to
walk on heels and toes. She is able to squat and get up from
squatting position without support. She is able to get on and
off the examination table without assistance and dress and
undress without assistance. She is right-handed. Her grip is
5/5 bilaterally. She is able to make a fist, pick up objects,
open and close the door, oppose the thumb to fingers, and
Motor system: Power is 5/5 with normal tone and muscle mass
in all 4 extremities. Sensory system: She has tingling in
right hand on tapping the right flexor aspect of right wrist
joint, no deficit to touch and pinprick in all 4 extremities.
Deep tendon reflexes are 2, going down plantars bilaterally.
August 6, 2015, Dr. Towfig Arjmand, a State agency physician,
opined that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to do medium work with certain
limitations. Exs. 1A, 2A.
August 17, 2015, Dr. Norem completed a four-page RFC
questionnaire, offering various assessments which, if
credited, would support a finding of disability. Ex.
September 23, 2015, Dr. Victoria Dow, another State agency
physician, issued an opinion. Exs. 5A, 6A. Dr. Dow found that
plaintiff had the RFC to do light work, which differed from
Dr. Arjmand's finding that plaintiff could do medium
work. Dr. Dow indicated that she had reviewed recent x-rays
not reviewed by Dr. Arjmand. R. 101.
Norem eventually referred plaintiff to Dr. Hovis, a
rheumatologist. At a visit on September 23, 2015, plaintiff
reported that she was taking several medications (Gabapentin,
Tramadol, and Ibuprofen), but they had not been effective. R.
426. On examination, Dr. Hovis noted that plaintiff had no
synovitis, pain, or impaired range of motion, but the doctor
did observe a number of positive tender points. R. 429. Dr.
Hovis noted that plaintiff had “[n]o active Psoriatic
arthritis at this time” and concluded that her pain was
“probably related to fibromyalgia.” R. 430. Dr.
Hovis recommended Effexor to treat the fibromyalgia.
saw Dr. Hovis again on January 13, 2016, and reported that
the Gabapentin and Effexor did not help and made her
“feel foggy.” R. 421. Dr. Hovis again observed
that there was no evidence of psoriatic arthritis but that
there was ongoing fibromyalgia. R. 422. Dr. Hovis advised
plaintiff to do low impact exercises. Id. It does