United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
PHIL GILBERT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
an appeal of the Social Security Administration's
decision denying Plaintiff Nancy Schulte's applications
for disability insurance and Social Security Income benefits.
Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment, filed September 5, 2019. (ECF No. 16). The
Commissioner of Social Security filed a response on November
7. (ECF No. 20). For the reasons that follow, the Court
DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment and AFFIRMS the Social Security
PROCEDURAL & FACTUAL HISTORY
worked part-time as an assistant manager at a convenience
store from 2008-2011. (Hr'g Tr. 10, ECF No. 13-2). Her
duties included cashiering, unloading of goods, scheduling,
and receiving orders. (Id. at 12). These duties
mirrored her previous role as an assistant manager at a
different convenience store from 2003-2006, where she was
also charged with hiring, firing, and payroll. (Id.
April 2015, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for
disability insurance and Social Security Income benefits with
the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). (SSA
Decision 1, ECF No. 13-1). She complained of arthritis in her
lower back and neuropathy. (Hr'g Tr. 20-21). The SSA denied
Plaintiff's applications. (SSA Decision 1). That decision
was affirmed upon reconsideration. (Id.). Plaintiff
then filed a written request for a hearing on her
applications before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). (Id.). Plaintiff appeared pro
se and was informed of her right to representation.
applied the five-step analysis used to determine whether an
applicant is disabled, see 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a), and concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled,
(SSA Decision 2). At Step 1, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since her alleged onset date in February 2014. At Step 2, the
ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's conditions and concluded that
she was suffering from severe impairments: “Asthma,
obesity, psoriasis, venous insufficiency, sensory neuropathy,
mild lumbar spine degenerative disc disease, mild cervical
degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis/psoriatic
arthritis, minimal white matter disease in the brain, and
right knee degenerative joint disease.” (Id.
at 3). At Step 3, however, the ALJ determined that these
impairments did not meet the statutory listing for
presumptive disability. (Id. at 5).
evaluating Plaintiff's residual functional capacity at
Step 4, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform
sedentary work seated for six hours and standing for two
hours. (Id. at 6- 9). The ALJ gave little weight to
the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Alao,
who asserted that Plaintiff “was limited to
standing/walking and sitting 4 hours in an 8-hour day; she
could sit and stand/walk for 30 minutes at a time; and she
needed additional unscheduled breaks during the workday, per
[Plaintiff].” (Id. at 8). According to the
ALJ, Dr. Alao's opinion relied heavily on Plaintiff's
subjective reports and was “not supported by the
objective findings on the record.” (Id.).
Although the ALJ did not dispute that Plaintiff's
impairments could result in the symptoms complained of, he
determined that they were “not entirely consistent with
the medical evidence and other evidence in the record,
” such as treatment records showing only mild
degenerative disc disease, an electromyogram that yielded
normal results, and mild findings on
examination. (Id.). Moreover, the ALJ asserted
that this determination was supported by Plaintiff's
recent history of cooking, driving, walking without an
assistive device, and interstate travel. (Id.).
the ALJ concluded at Step 5 that although Plaintiff cannot
perform her past relevant work due to exertion demands, she
is still capable of performing semi-skilled work.
(Id. at 9-11). This was based in part on the
testimony by James E. Bordieri-a vocational expert.
(Id.). He stated that Plaintiff possesses skills
from her work as an assistant manager that would transfer to
sedentary work, such as a personnel scheduler, payroll clerk,
or “computer data entry person.” (Hr'g Tr.
45). He further stated that these positions are semi-skilled,
require less skill than her previous position (although they
involve “similar materials, products, processes, and .
. . services”), and carry a specific vocational
preparation (“SVP”) of 7. (Id. at 44,
46-47). Although the ALJ stated in his decision that the
position carried a SVP of 4, he nevertheless agreed that
Plaintiff was fit to work as a personnel scheduler, payroll
clerk, or data-entry clerk. Accordingly, he denied
February 2019, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court
seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff motioned for summary
judgment, (ECF No. 16), and the Commissioner responded, (ECF
reviewing the SSA's benefits decisions, the Court treats
its findings as conclusive “so long as they are
supported by ‘substantial evidence.' ”
Beistek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1152 (2019)
(citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). A decision is
supported by substantial evidence if it contains sufficient
evidence to support the SSA's factual determinations.
Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229
(1938). This is not an onerous standard, meaning something
“more than a mere scintilla.” Id. In
other words, it 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). This only requires the Court to determine
“whether the ALJ built an ‘accurate and logical
bridge' from the evidence to her conclusion that the
claimant is not disabled.” Simila v. Astrue,
573 F.3d 503, 513 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Craft v.
Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008)).
LAW & ANALYSIS
ALJ's decision denying Plaintiff's applications for
benefits was based on substantial evidence. In giving little
weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician,
the ALJ suitably discussed the conflicts between the
physician's testimony and the objective medical evidence
on the record. Moreover, the discrepancy between the
vocational expert's SVP determination and the ALJ's
decision was harmless error: The alternative ...