United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DAVID WEISMAN MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
R. brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for
judicial review of the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA's”) decision denying her application
for benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the Court
reverses the SSA's decision.
applied for benefits on March 13, 2014, alleging a disability
onset date of January 1, 2011. (R. 101.) Her application was
denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. 100, 109.)
Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held by an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on June 29,
2016. (See R. 40-99.) Subsequently, the ALJ found
that plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 1305-13.) Plaintiff
appealed the decision to this Court, which remanded the case
to the SSA for further proceedings. (R. 1353.) After another
hearing, an ALJ again denied plaintiff's claim. (R.
1365-80.) Plaintiff did not request Appeals Council review
and the Appeals Council did not otherwise assume
jurisdiction, making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the SSA, reviewable by this Court pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). 20 C.F.R. § 404.984.
Court reviews the ALJ's decision deferentially, affirming
if it is supported by “substantial evidence in the
record, ” i.e., “‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” White v. Sullivan,
965 F.2d 133, 136 (7th Cir. 1992) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). “Although this
standard is generous, it is not entirely uncritical, ”
and the case must be remanded if the “decision lacks
evidentiary support.” Steele v. Barnhart, 290
F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).
the Social Security Act, disability is defined as the
“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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). The regulations prescribe a five-part
sequential test for determining whether a claimant is
disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a),
416.920(a). The SSA must consider whether: (1) the claimant
has performed any substantial gainful activity during the
period for which he claims disability; (2) the claimant has a
severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) the
claimant's impairment meets or equals any listed
impairment; (4) the claimant retains the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform his past relevant
work; and (5) the claimant is able to perform any other work
existing in significant numbers in the national economy.
Id.; see Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881,
885 (7th Cir. 2001).
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity from the alleged onset date
through her date last insured (“DLI”). (R. 1367.)
At step two, the ALJ determined that, through her DLI,
plaintiff had the severe impairments of cervical degenerative
disc disease and obesity. (Id.) At step three, the
ALJ found that, through the DLI, plaintiff's impairments
did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed
impairment. (R. 1368.) At step four, the ALJ found that,
through the DLI, plaintiff was unable to perform any past
relevant work but had the RFC to perform sedentary work with
certain exceptions. (R. 1369, 1377.) At step five, the ALJ
found that, through the DLI, jobs existed in significant
numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could have
performed, and thus she was not disabled. (R. 1378-79.)
determined that, before her DLI, plaintiff had the RFC to
perform sedentary work, could “occasionally climb
ramps and stairs, never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds,
occasionally stoop, crouch, kne[el] and crawl, . . .
frequently reach with her non-dominant left upper extremity
. . . . [, ] [and] ha[ve] no more than frequent exposure to
workplace hazards including unprotected heights, moving
mechanical parts, and operating motor vehicles.” (R.
1369.) Plaintiff contends that this determination is flawed
because it does not mirror any of the medical opinions.
(Pl.'s Br., ECF 21 at 7.) However, the RFC determination
is the province of the ALJ, 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527(d)(2), 416.927(d)(2), and “an ALJ is not
required to rely entirely on a particular physician's
opinion or choose between the opinions [of] any of the
claimant's physicians [in making that
determination].” Schmidt v. Astrue, 496 F.3d
833, 845 (7th Cir. 2007). Rather, the ALJ is required to make
the RFC determination based on all of the evidence in the
record, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(3), 416.945(a)(3),
which is what the ALJ did here. Thus, the ALJ's failure
to parrot the limitations endorsed by any one physician does
not invalidate the RFC.
Court agrees, however, that the ALJ erred by failing to
accommodate the limited range of motion plaintiff has in her
neck. Plaintiff testified that she cannot read something that
is placed on a table because it is “too stressful on
[her] neck” and does not drive because she cannot turn
her head (R. 1289-90), testimony that is consistent with the
repeated complaints of neck pain in her medical records.
(See, e.g., R. 317, 324, 331, 339, 358, 378.) The
ALJ claims to have accommodated plaintiff's
“consistent reports of chronic neck . . . pain”
by limiting her to sedentary work with “postural . . .
limitations, ” but none of those limitations concerns
neck movement. (See R. 1374.) The ALJ's failure
to address plaintiffs neck problems in the RFC, though
purportedly crediting plaintiffs testimony about them,
reversible error. See Yurt v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 850,
857 (7th Cir. 2014) (“[T]he ALJ's RFC assessment
must incorporate all of the claimant's limitations
supported by the medical record.”). Accordingly, this
case must be remanded for a reassessment of plaintiff s
testimony and redetermination of the RFC.
reasons set forth above, the Court denies the SSA's
motion , reverses the SSA's decision and remands this
case for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum
Opinion and Order pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). This case is terminated.