Bijedic v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM Opinion and Order Signed by the Honorable M. David Weisman on 6/2/2017. Mailed notice (ao,)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,1 Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
No. 15 C 6864
Magistrate Judge M. David Weisman
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Vera Bijedic brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the
Social Security Administration Commissioner’s decision denying her application for disability
insurance benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the Commissioner’s
Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits on September 15, 2011, alleging a
disability onset date of May 27, 2011. (R. 210.) Plaintiff’s application was denied initially on
December 8, 2011, and on reconsideration on May 1, 2012. (R. 103-04.) An Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on plaintiff’s application on March 5, 2014. (See R. 36-102.)
On March 26, 2014, the ALJ denied plaintiff’s application. (See R. 11-28.) The Appeals
Council denied plaintiff’s request for review (R. 1-4), leaving the ALJ’s decision as the final
On January 23, 2017, Nancy A. Berryhill succeeded Carolyn W. Colvin as Acting Commissioner of Social
Security. See https://www.ssa.gov/agency/commissioner.html (last visited June 2, 2017). Accordingly, the Court
substitutes Berryhill for Colvin pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(d).
decision of the Commissioner, reviewable by this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See
Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).
The Court reviews the ALJ’s decision deferentially, affirming it 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) (citation omitted).
Under 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). The Commissioner must consider whether: (1) the claimant has
performed any substantial gainful activity during the period for which she 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 to perform her past relevant work; and (5) the claimant is able to perform any
other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.; Zurawski v. Halter, 245
F.3d 881, 885 (7th Cir. 2001). The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2); Zurawski, 245 F.3d at 886. If that burden is met, at step five, the
burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that the claimant is capable of performing work
existing in significant numbers in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2).
At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the alleged disability onset date of March 31, 2014. (R. 14.) At step two, the ALJ
determined that plaintiff has the severe impairments of “depression; anxiety; and diabetes
mellitus.” (Id.) At step three, however, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments. (Id.) At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff retains the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to “perform medium work . . . except the claimant can perform unskilled,
simple, and routine work that can be learned in thirty days or less; she should have limited
interaction with the public but can answer incidental types of questions; occasional supervision;
and should work in a routine and predictable environment.” (R. 17.) At step five, the ALJ
determined that plaintiff “is able to perform past relevant work as a cleaner/housekeeping”
because such work is not precluded by her RFC. (R. 28.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that
plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Id.)
Plaintiff, whose brief is wholly lacking in legal and factual analysis, appears to argue that
the ALJ erred in failing to give controlling weight to the opinion of plaintiff’s treating
physicians, Drs. Guzina and Fayyaz. See 20 C.F.R. § 1527(c)(2) (a treating physician’s opinion
is entitled to controlling weight if it is “well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in
[the] case record”). Dr. Guzina submitted a report about plaintiff’s physical function on March
9, 2013, less than a month after plaintiff suffered multiple fractures in a car accident. (R. 21, 26.)
At that time, Dr. Guzina said plaintiff was “more than 50% reduced in bending, standing,
stooping, climbing, pushing, and pulling; 20-50% reduced in walking; and was up to 20%
reduced in sitting, travel (public conveyances), fine/gross manipulation, right/left finger
dexterity, and in the ability to perform activities of daily living,” and “could not lift more than 10
pounds at a time.” (R. 26-27.) The ALJ “accept[ed] this opinion as reflective of [plaintiff’s]
condition one month after the motor vehicle accident” but said that “the medical records show
that claimant was fully recovered [from those injuries] as of September 2013.” (R. 27.) Thus,
the ALJ concluded that the limitations set forth in Dr. Guzina’s report “[were] not representative
of [plaintiff’s] functioning for the entire period at issue.” (R. 27.) The medical evidence fully
supports the ALJ’s decision to limit Dr. Guzina’s opinion to the period in which it was issued.
(See R. 563-70, 822, 825-73.) Thus, there is no error in the ALJ’s assessment of that opinion.
The ALJ’s assessment of Dr. Fayyaz’s opinions is also supported by the record. The ALJ
noted that Dr. Fayyaz saw plaintiff approximately monthly from July 2011 to January 2014,
variously diagnosed plaintiff with major depression, PTSD, and anxiety, recommended that
plaintiff attend therapy, and prescribed medications for her. (R. 19-23.) Dr. Fayyaz did not,
however, opine on the impact, if any, of plaintiff’s psychological conditions on her ability to
The only opinion on that subject came from the independent psychological expert, Dr.
Rozenfeld, who acknowledged Dr. Fayyaz’s diagnoses, and testified that:
[Plaintiff’s] mental status examinations reflect mild anxiety and problems with
sleep and nightmares but no suicidal/homicidal ideations or hallucinations.
[Plaintiff] was observed as alert and cooperative. . . . [Plaintiff] did not meet or
equal any listing because there [were] no marked limitations in the B criteria and
there was no evidence of psychiatric or even partial hospitalizations and her
symptomology does not equate to marked limitations. . . . [Plaintiff] was
generally compliant with medications, which generally controlled her symptoms. .
. . [Plaintiff] can perform unskilled, simple, and routine tasks and attend and
concentrate to complete those types of tasks; only incidental contact with the
general public but is able to handle co-worker contact and occasional supervisory
contact; routine and predictable work setting.
(R. 27.) The ALJ “accord[ed] great weight” to Dr. Rozenfeld’s opinion “because [she] had the
opportunity to see [plaintiff] in person, review the entirety of the longitudinal record, testif[ied]
from a completely neutral and independent position, and render[ed] an opinion well within her
expertise that [was] consistent with the medical evidence of record,” id., all considerations that
are relevant to evaluating opinion testimony. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c). Because there was
only one expert opinion about the extent to which plaintiff’s mental impairments limit her ability
to work, and the ALJ reasonably evaluated it, the Court has no basis for overturning that
Plaintiff also challenges the ALJ’s credibility findings,2 specifically that plaintiff’s
testimony was “vague, evasive, and exaggerated,” and that she “appear[ed] to have exaggerated
the degree of her understanding of the English language.” (R. 24.) An ALJ “is in the best
position to determine the credibility of witnesses.” Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir.
2008). Thus, the Court will “overturn a credibility determination only if it is patently wrong,”
id., that is, it “lacks any explanation or support.” Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413-14 (7th Cir.
The Commissioner has issued new guidance for evaluating symptoms in disability claims,
which supersedes SSR 96-7p and “eliminat[es] the use of the term ‘credibility’” to “clarify that
subjective symptom evaluation is not an examination of an individual’s character.” See SSR 163p, 2016 WL 1119029 (Mar. 16, 2016). However, the factors to be considered in evaluating
symptoms under either SSR 96-7p or SSR 16-3p are the same. Compare SSR 96-7p, 1996 WL
374186 (July 2, 1996), with SSR 16-3p, 2016 WL 1119029 (Mar. 16, 2016). Moreover, “the
Court is also bound by case law concerning the same regulatory process under the ‘credibility’
analysis of the former SSR 96-7p.” Farrar v. Colvin, No. 14 C 6319, 2016 WL 3538827, at *5
(N.D. Ill. June 29, 2016).
That is not the case here. Rather, the ALJ contrasted: (1) plaintiff’s demeanor at the
hearing and her testimony about her symptoms with that observed and recorded by her doctors in
her medical records; and (2) her purportedly limited grasp of English with her understanding of
the language demonstrated at the hearing, in her medical records and work history, and by the
fact of her naturalized citizenship. (See R. 24-26.) In short, the ALJ explained his credibility
findings and supported them with significant evidence. Thus, the Court will not set them aside.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court denies plaintiff’s motion for summary
judgment , grants the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment , and affirms the
Commissioner’s decision denying plaintiff’s application for disability benefits. Judgment is
entered in favor of the Commissioner and against plaintiff.
ENTERED: June 2, 2017
M. David Weisman
United States Magistrate Judge
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