United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
AMENDED MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JEFFREY COLE, MAGISTRATE JUDGE
applied for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”)
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act
(“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381a, 1382c,
over four years ago. (Administrative Record (R.) 210-215). He
claimed that he became disabled as of February 18, 2014, due
to bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and a learning
disability. (R. 210, 243). Over the ensuing three years,
plaintiff's application was denied at every level of
administrative review: initial, reconsideration,
administrative law judge (ALJ), and appeals council. It is
the ALJ's decision that is before the court for review.
See 20 C.F.R. §§404.955; 404.981. Plaintiff filed
suit under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the parties consented
to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c) on August 16, 2018. [Dkt. #8]. The case
was reassigned to me on January 10, 2019. [Dkt. # 22].
Plaintiff asks the court to reverse and remand the
Commissioner's decision, while the Commissioner seeks an
order affirming the decision.
was born on October 16, 1980 (R. 192), and was just 29 years
old when he claims he became unable to ever work again. (R.
210). He has a spotty work record, at best, having had five
jobs in his adult life, and never one for more than a month
or two. (R. 245). Most recently, he worked in retail sales
for a wireless company from October 2103 to February 2014.
(R. 245). He didn't get along with his boss, had an
argument with him, and was let go. (R. 243). Child support
orders in the record indicate that, while he was not working
from 2004 through 2006, he fathered three children by three
different women. (R. 196-208). He reported to one of his
mental healthcare providers it was seven children with five
different women. (R. 446). He currently lives with his mother
and his finance. (R. 43). His fiancé drives him around
because his license was suspended for not paying child
support. (R. 45). He spends his days watching televison and
doing his hobbies - working on cars, doing puzzles, and
drawing - which he says he handles very well. (R. 266). He
goes out a couple of times a week, perhaps to a movie. He
also goes to the gym and the park every couple of days. (R.
an administrative hearing - at which plaintiff, represented
by counsel, and a vocational expert testified - the ALJ
determined plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ found that
plaintiff had the severe impairment of major depressive
disorder/bipolar disorder. (R. 17). Plaintiff was also obese,
but it was not severe as it caused no more than minimal
limitations to plaintiff's ability to perform basic work
activities. (R. 18). The ALJ went on to determine that
plaintiff's psychological impairment caused a mild
limitation in understanding, remembering, or applying
information; a moderate limitation in interacting with
others; a moderate limitation in concentrating, persisting,
or maintaining pace; and no limitation in adapting or
managing himself. (R. 20-21). But, because not one area was
affected to a marked level, the ALJ found that
plaintiff's psychological impairments, either singly or
in combination, did not meet or equal a listed impairment
assumed to be disabling in the Commissioner's listings.
then stated that the plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity to perform work at all exertional levels with the
following nonexertional limitations due to his psychological
impairment: “lacks the ability to understand, remember,
and carry out detailed instructions because of the moderate
limitations in concentration, but retains the concentration
necessary for simple work of a routine type if given normal
workplace breaks . . . Would be unable to maintain assembly
line or production pace employment because of moderate
limitations in pace, but maintains the ability to perform
work permitting a more flexible pace; because of moderate
difficulties interacting with others, may only engage in
brief and superficial contact with supervisors, co-workers,
and the general public; can work in proximity to others but
should not work on joint or shared tasks.” (R. 21). The
ALJ next found that plaintiff's “medically
determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to
cause the alleged symptoms; however, [his] statements
concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of
these symptoms are not entirely consistent with the medical
evidence and other evidence in the record for reasons
explained in this decision.” (R. 22). In this regard
the ALJ felt that medical evidence, course of treatment,
medications and overall functioning did not support the
plaintiff's alleged disabling symptoms. (R. 22).
then summarized the record of plaintiff's sessions with
his doctors and therapists, noting that treatment was
conservative and relatively limited. (R. 23-24). Also, she
found that plaintiff's daily activities are not as
limited as one would expect given the degree of limitations
he alleged. (R. 24). The ALJ also assessed the medical
opinion evidence. The psychiatrist who examined plaintiff in
connection with his application noted that while plaintiff
had a number of complaints regarding depression and anxiety,
he did not present that way, and the doctor questioned his
reliability. (R. 26). The ALJ gave great weight to this
opinion, finding it consistent with the medical evidence
overall. (R. 26). The ALJ accorded record could communicate
with co-workers and supervisors, follow and retain most
instructions, perform simple, routine tasks, but would have
difficulty handling moderate work stress. The ALJ did not
find the opinion of the psychiatrist who saw plaintiff on
four occasions in 2014-15 that plaintiff was disabled
entitled to great weight because it was not supported by the
treatment notes and disability was a determination reserved
for the Commissioner. (R. 26). The ALJ also found the opinion
of plaintiff's therapist entitled to limited weight as it
was based on an uncritical acceptance of plaintiff's
subjective reports, and was not from an acceptable medical
source. (R. 27). The ALJ gave great weight to the opinions of
the state agency reviewing physicians as they are familiar
with the criteria for entitlement to SSI and their opinions
were consistent with the medical record. (R. 27).
the ALJ determined that plaintiff could not return to his
past work in sales because it was skilled work and obviously
required more contact with the public than the ALJ's
residual functional capacity finding allowed. (R. 27). The
ALJ then relied on the testimony of the vocational expert and
found that given his residual functional capacity, plaintiff
could perform the following jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy: laundry laborer (DOT
#361.687-018; 110, 000 jobs nationally), kitchen helper (DOT
#318.687-010; 278, 000 jobs nationally), and automotive
detailer (DOT #915.687-034; 76, 000). (R. 28). Accordingly,
the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled and was not
entitled to benefits under the Act. (R. 28-29).
ALJ's decision is supported by “substantial
evidence, ” the court on judicial review must uphold
that decision even if the court might have decided the case
differently in the first instance. See 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). See Smith v. Berryhill, U.S., 139 S.Ct.
1765, n.19 (2019). Substantial 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); Beardsley v.
Colvin, 758 F.3d 834, 836 (7th Cir. 2014). Accord
Biestek v. Berryhill, U.S., 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1152 (2019).
To determine whether substantial evidence exists, the court
reviews the record as a whole but does not attempt to
substitute its judgment for the ALJ's by reweighing the
evidence, resolving material conflicts, or reconsidering
facts or the credibility of witnesses. Beardsley,
758 F.3d at 837. “Where conflicting evidence allows
reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is
entitled to benefits, ” the court must defer to the
Commissioner's resolution of that conflict. Binion v.
Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir.1997); Schloesser
v. Berryhill, 870 F.3d 712, 717 (7th Cir. 2017)
the Seventh Circuit, the ALJ also has an obligation to build
what is called an accurate and logical bridge between the
evidence and the result to afford the claimant meaningful
judicial review of the administrative findings. Varga v.
Colvin, 794 F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 2015);
O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618
(7th Cir.2010). The court has to be able to trace the path of
the ALJ's reasoning from evidence to conclusion.
Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 938 (7th Cir.
2015); Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 812 (7th
Cir. 2011). Even if the court agrees with the ultimate
result, the case must be remanded if the ALJ fails in his or
her obligation to build that logical bridge. Sarchet v.
Chater, 78 F.3d 305, 307 (7th Cir. 1996)(“. . . we
cannot uphold a decision by an administrative agency, any
more than we can uphold a decision by a district court, if,
while there is enough evidence in the record to support the
decision, the reasons given by the trier of fact do not build
an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and the
result.”); but see, e.g., Riley v. City of
Kokomo, 909 F.3d 182, 188 (7th Cir. 2018)(“But we
need not address either of those issues here because, even if
[plaintiff] were correct on both counts, we may affirm on any
basis appearing in the record, . . . .”); Steimel
v. Wernert, 823 F.3d 902, 917 (7th Cir. 2016)(“We
have serious reservations about this decision, which strikes
us as too sweeping. Nonetheless, we may affirm on any basis
that fairly appears in the record.”); Kidwell v.
Eisenhauer, 679 F.3d 957, 965 (7th Cir.
2012)(“[District court] did not properly allocate the
burden of proof on the causation element between the parties,
. . . No. matter, because we may affirm on any basis that
appears in the record.”).
same time, the Seventh Circuit has also called this
requirement “lax.” Elder v. Astrue, 529
F.3d 408, 415 (7th Cir. 2008); Berger v. Astrue, 516
F.3d 539, 545 (7th Cir. 2008). “If a sketchy opinion
assures us that the ALJ considered the important evidence,
and the opinion enables us to trace the path of the ALJ's
reasoning, the ALJ has done enough.” Stephens v.
Heckler, 766 F.2d 284, 287-88 (7th Cir. 1985); see
also Mogg v. Barnhart, 199 Fed.Appx. 572, 576 (7th Cir.
2006); Brindisi ex rel. Brindisi v. Barnhart, 315
F.3d 783, 787 (7th Cir. 2003).
generally the case with plaintiffs claiming disability based
on psychological issues like depression or anxiety, page
after page of therapists' notes show that plaintiff is
sometimes depressed, sometimes better, sometimes fine.
Invariably, a plaintiff will recount issues with family,
spouses, or significant others, and plaintiff here is no
different. There's not much in records like these to
suggest whether a plaintiff can work or cannot. So, these are
always difficult cases for an ALJ to sift through. And, this
one, is made more difficult due to the variances in the tales
the plaintiff has told the ALJ and his mental healthcare
brief, plaintiff states that he spends three weeks at a time
in bed, or that for 75% of the time, he is so depressed he
cannot get out of bed. [Dkt.#13, at 2, 11]. Yet, there is
only a single reference to anything like this in the therapy
notes. However, when plaintiff told Dr. Fatyga that he spent
three weeks in bed in September 2015 and attempted suicide by
pills. (R. 425). But records contemporaneous to September
make no reference to any such episode. On September
3rd, plaintiff was assessed as stable, generally
calm, and his main issue was with his mother not liking their
new puppy. (R. 438). He denied any suicidal ideas. (R. 346,
347). On September 30th, at a physical exam,
plaintiff was in no distress, displayed normal mood, affect,