United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
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,
about five years ago. (Administrative Record (R.) 155-161).
He claimed that he became disabled as of April 4, 2014 (R.
155, 180), due to high blood pressure, congestive heart
failure, and kidney disease. (R. 180). Over the next two
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)in November 2017, and the
parties consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) on January 25, 2018.
[Dkt. #10]. Plaintiff asks the court to reverse and remand
the Commissioner's decision, while the Commissioner seeks
an order affirming the decision.
was born on March 6, 1973, and was 41 at the time his claims
he became unable to work, and just 31 when he quit working
for good. (R. 155, 180). Prior to that, he worked as a
janitor for the CHA for about ten years and then as a temp
for a service agency sporadically for another five years. (R.
163-164, 197). He wasn't clear on whether he was laid off
or whether he was fired because of a disagreement with his
boss. (R. 38-40). He thought he could do a desk job but not
anything where he had to stand because his legs cramp. (R.
medical record covering plaintiff's treatment in this
case is scant as these cases go; not even 100 pages. (R.
237-311). The plaintiff refers to fewer than 20 pages in
support of his claim for benefits. [Dkt. # 14, at 3-6].
Indeed, the focus of plaintiff's argument for overturning
the ALJ's decision is a single report from a psychiatrist
who examined plaintiff once at the request of his attorney.
[Dkt. # 14, at 9-14]. As such, we will dispense with a
tedious review of the medical evidence and recount only that
evidence that matters to the plaintiff in our analysis of his
an administrative hearing - at which plaintiff, represented
by counsel, and a vocational expert testified - the ALJ
determined he was not disabled. The ALJ found that plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: congestive heart
failure and hypertension. (R. 15). The ALJ then found that
plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in combination,
did not meet or equal a listed impairment assumed to be
disabling in the Commissioner's listings, referring
specifically to Listing 4.02 covering heart failure (R. 17).
The ALJ found that plaintiff had no severe mental impairment,
rejecting the assessment of the consulting examiner because
the plaintiff didn't allege a mental impairment - his
reasons for not being able to work were physical - the
medical record made absolutely no mention of any mental
health issues, and the examiner saw plaintiff on a single
occasion. (R. 15-16, 22).
then determined that plaintiff could perform light work light
work - which requires lifting/carrying 20 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently - with the exception that he could
only be on his feet standing/walking for four hours a day,
two hours at a time, and sitting about six hours a day. (R.
17). He could not work at heights, climb ladders, or
frequently negotiate stairs, and he had to avoid operating
moving or dangerous machinery. (R. 17). The ALJ then
summarized the medical record (R. 17-22), saying that he
found 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. 19). Specifically, the ALJ cited
plaintiff's daily activities and inconsistent statements
as that “other evidence.” (R. 18-19). The ALJ
then addressed the medical opinion evidence, giving
“good weight” to the opinion of the consultative
medical examiner because it was consistent with her objective
findings and the treatment record. (R. 21). He, again, gave
little weight to the consulting psychiatrist who examined
plaintiff at the request of plaintiff's attorney. (R.
the ALJ - relying on the testimony of the vocational expert -
found that plaintiff was capable of performing Light work
that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
Examples of such work were: packer (DOT #559.687-074, 300,
000 jobs), sorter (DOT #222.687-022, 50, 000 jobs), and (DOT
#739.687-030). (R. 23). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that
plaintiff was not disabled and was not entitled to SSI under
the Act. (R. 23).
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). 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). It's a low hurdle to negotiate. Biestek v.
Berryhill, __U.S. __, __, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019).
To determine whether substantial evidence exists, the court
reviews the record as a whole, Biestek, 139 S.Ct. at
1154, 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
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... 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.”).
other hand, the Seventh Circuit has described the logical
bridge requirement as “lax.” Elder v.
Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 415 (7th Cir. 2008); Berger v.
Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 545 (7th Cir.2008). Indeed, the
Seventh Circuit has allowed that even a sketchy opinion is
sufficient if it assures a reviewing court that an ALJ has
considered the important evidence and enables the court to
trace his reasoning. 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). Viewed
properly, the “logical bridge” requirement is not
about elegantia juris or aesthetics. The ALJ need
not build the Pont Neuf. A simple span will suffice so long
as it allows the reviewing court to traverse the divide
between the evidence and the ALJ's conclusions. 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). Perfection is no more required in a
Social Security case than in any other kind of case.
Damayanti v. Gonzales, 209 Fed.Appx. 601, 603 (7th
Cir. 2006); Wilcox v. Comm'r of Soc. Security,
2018 WL 4090328, at *4 (W.D.N.Y. 2018). The ALJ's
explanations here more than satisfy the obligations of
plaintiff raises two arguments in favor of overturning the
ALJ's decision: (1) the ALJ's rejection of the
consulting psychiatrist's opinion was not supported by
substantial evidence and was flawed by legal error; and (2)
the ALJ's conclusion that plaintiff could do jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy was not
supported by substantial evidence. As it happens, the
plaintiff's issues with the ALJ's decision turn on
two competing views of what expert witnesses bring to the
table. The plaintiff wanted the ALJ to believe his expert
witness - the psychiatrist his attorneys sent him to - and
disbelieve the Social Security agency's expert witness -
the vocational expert who testified at his administrative
hearing. The ALJ chose the agency's expert. Under the
circumstances of this case, the ALJ's conclusion should
not be disturbed.
start with Dr. Amdur. Plaintiff applied for SSI on April 25,
2014. (R. 155-61). He was already represented by counsel at
that time. (R. 97-98). His application was denied, initially,
on August 28, 2014. (R. 78-86). The medical record at that
time was sparse, and there was no inkling of anything
resembling a psychological impairment. The doctor who
reviewed the record for the Agency determined that plaintiff
could do light work and had no other limitations. (R. 82-83).
It was shortly thereafter, on September 10, 2014, that
plaintiff's counsel sent him to Dr. Amdur to have a
psychiatric examination. (R. 269). Dr. Amdur recounted his
mental status examination of plaintiff:
[Plaintiff] walked with normal gait. There is no bizarre or
inappropriate behavior, but as noted throughout the interview
he is slumped and withdrawn, consistent with depression. He
is mildly obese. Personal hygiene and grooming were modest.
He sat calmly through the interview. His attention could be
focused and he generally seemed to understand the questions
put to him. He was cooperative. He seemed moderately tense
and apprehensive. Speech was relevant and coherent but very
apathetic. Speech was slowed and underproductive. He spoke
softly. His voice was weak. The conversation was easily
directed. Affect was prominently blunted and depressed. At
times, he seemed vaguely annoyed with questioning. There is
marked avoidance of eye contact. There are no delusions.
There are paranoid trends, ideas of reference. There is