Gunter v. Commissioner of Social Security
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER, The Commissioner's final decision denying plaintiff's application for social security benefits is AFFIRMED.The Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment in favor of defendant. Signed by Judge J. Phil Gilbert on 11/21/2017. (jdh)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
STACY A. GUNTER
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
Case No. 3:17-120-JPG-CJP
MEMORANDUM and ORDER
In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Stacy A. Gunter seeks judicial review of
the final agency decision denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI in September 2013 alleging an onset date of May 31,
2013. (Tr. 226-35.) Her application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr.
109-32, 135-60.) Plaintiff requested a hearing, which Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Kevin
Martin conducted in October 2015. (Tr. 7-11, 33-59.) ALJ Martin issued an unfavorable
decision in November 2015. (Tr. 12-32.) The Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for
review, rendering the ALJ’s decision the final agency decision. (Tr. 1-6.) Plaintiff exhausted all
of her administrative remedies and filed a timely complaint with this Court.
Issues Raised by Plaintiff
Plaintiff raises the following points:
Nancy A. Berryhill is now the Acting Commissioner of Social Security. See https://www.ssa.gov/agency/
commissioner.html (visited Feb. 7, 2017). She is automatically substituted as defendant in this case. See Fed. R.
Civ. P. 25(d); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
1. The ALJ erroneously found plaintiff did not meet listing 12.05(c).
2. The ALJ improperly evaluated the opinion evidence.
Applicable Legal Standards
To qualify for SSI or DIB, a claimant must be disabled within the meaning of the
applicable statutes.2 For these purposes, “disabled” means unable “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).
A “physical or mental impairment” is an impairment resulting from anatomical,
physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).
activity” is work activity that involves doing significant physical or mental activities and that is
done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572.
Social Security regulations set forth a sequential five-step inquiry to determine whether a
claimant is disabled. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has explained this process as
The first step considers whether the applicant is engaging in substantial gainful
activity. The second step evaluates whether an alleged physical or mental
impairment is severe, medically determinable, and meets a durational
requirement. The third step compares the impairment to a list of impairments that
are considered conclusively disabling. If the impairment meets or equals one of
the listed impairments, then the applicant is considered disabled; if the
impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then the evaluation
continues. The fourth step assesses an applicant’s residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and ability to engage in past relevant work. If an applicant can engage in
The statutes and regulations pertaining to DIB are found at 42 U.S.C. § 423, et seq., and 20 C.F.R. pt. 404. The
statutes and regulations pertaining to SSI are found at 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382 and 1382c, et seq., and 20 C.F.R. pt. 416.
As is relevant to this case, the DIB and SSI statutes are identical. Furthermore, 20 C.F.R. § 416.925 detailing
medical considerations relevant to an SSI claim, relies on 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, the DIB regulations. Most
citations herein are to the DIB regulations out of convenience.
past relevant work, he is not disabled. The fifth step assesses the applicant’s
RFC, as well as his age, education, and work experience to determine whether the
applicant can engage in other work. If the applicant can engage in other work, he
is not disabled.
Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 674 (7th Cir. 2008); accord Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565,
568-69 (7th Cir. 2011).
Stated another way, it must be determined:
(1) whether the claimant is presently
unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that is
serious; (3) whether the impairments meet or equal one of the listed impairments acknowledged
to be conclusively disabling; (4) whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and (5)
whether the claimant is capable of performing any work within the economy, given his or her
age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 51213 (7th Cir. 2009); Schroeter v. Sullivan, 977 F.2d 391, 393 (7th Cir. 1992).
If the answer at steps one and two is “yes,” the claimant will automatically be found
disabled if he or she suffers from a listed impairment, determined at step three. If the claimant
does not have a listed impairment at step three, and cannot perform his or her past work (step
four), the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant can perform
some other job. Rhoderick v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984); see also Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001) (Under the five-step evaluation, an “affirmative
answer leads either to the next step, or, on Steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is
disabled. . . . If a claimant reaches step 5, the burden shifts to the ALJ to establish that the
claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.”).
This Court reviews the Commissioner’s decision to ensure that the decision is supported
by substantial evidence and that no mistakes of law were made. It is important to recognize that
the scope of review is limited. “The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any
fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Thus,
this Court must determine not whether plaintiff was, in fact, disabled at the relevant time, but
whether the ALJ’s findings were supported by substantial evidence and whether any errors of
law were made. See Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 977-78 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Diaz v. Chater,
55 F.3d 300, 306 (7th Cir. 1995)). This Court uses the Supreme Court’s definition of substantial
evidence: “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
In reviewing for “substantial evidence,” the entire administrative record is taken into
consideration, but this Court does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of
credibility, or substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ. Brewer v. Chater, 103 F.3d 1384,
1390 (7th Cir. 1997); Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1121 (7th Cir. 2014). However, while
judicial review is deferential, it is not abject; this Court does not act as a rubber stamp for the
Commissioner. See Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010), and cases cited therein.
The ALJ’s Decision
ALJ Martin followed the five-step analytical framework set forth above. He determined
plaintiff met the insured status requirements through March 31, 2018, and had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since May 31, 2013. The ALJ found plaintiff had severe impairments
of schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, personality disorder, and borderline intellectual
functioning. He further determined plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (Tr. 17-19.) ALJ
Martin opined plaintiff had the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
had several non-exertional limitations. (Tr. 20-24.) Plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant
work but was not disabled because she could perform other jobs that existed in the national
economy. (Tr. 25-26.)
The Evidentiary Record
The Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary record in formulating this
Memorandum and Order. The following summary of the record is directed to the points raised
In her disability report, plaintiff indicated that schizophrenia, generalized anxiety
disorder, borderline personality disorder, headaches, depression, severe allergies, and blackout
spells limited her ability to work. (Tr. 247.) She completed two years of college in 1997 and did
not attend special education classes. (Tr. 248.) Plaintiff previously worked as a CNA and inhome health care. (Tr. 248.) In a subsequent disability report, plaintiff alleged her depression
was worsening. (Tr. 286.)
In her function report, plaintiff stated she experienced anxiety attacks, crying spells, and
blackouts when she tried to work.
She had double vision and problems with
concentration and memory. She found it difficult to understand directions but became too upset
to ask for help. (Tr. 270.)
Plaintiff got along with authority figures but they scared her. She was fired several times
because she became upset at other people and cried. She handled stress very poorly. She had
fears of her mom and dad dying and having to live alone. (Tr. 271.)
Plaintiff fed her two dogs and cat but needed a reminder to do so. Plaintiff’s mother
helped pick out her clothes and combed her hair. Plaintiff was otherwise able to dress, bathe,
care for her hair, shave, feed herself, and use the toilet without assistance. (Tr. 266.) Plaintiff’s
mother helped with her medication regimen. (Tr. 267.) Plaintiff did not prepare her own meals
because she would forget to turn the stove off. She did some household chores such as drying
dishes, dusting, making her bed, and picking up her room. (Tr. 267.) Plaintiff’s doctor took her
driver’s license because she had blackouts and seizures. Plaintiff shopped for food and clothes
with her mother. Plaintiff’s mother helped plaintiff maintain her checkbook and pay her bills.
Plaintiff’s mother completed a third-party function report in November 2013. She stated
plaintiff became extremely anxious when she worked and blacked out.
reminders and followed her mother around at home. At work, plaintiff “walk[e]d around like she
[was] spaced out.” (Tr. 257.) Overall, plaintiff’s mother corroborated plaintiff’s function report.
ALJ Martin conducted an evidentiary hearing on October 1, 2015, at which plaintiff was
represented by counsel. (Tr. 33-59.) Plaintiff’s counsel requested a neuro-psych with IQ testing.
The ALJ stated he would take the request under advisement. (Tr. 37-38.)
Plaintiff testified she lived with her mother and father. She had a driver’s license but her
psychiatrist, Dr. Chandra, advised plaintiff not to drive due to her medications.
Plaintiff received a two-year Associate of Arts degree, which took her four years to complete.
She failed two classes and required several tutors for each class. (Tr. 41, 48-49.) Plaintiff called
her parents to pick her up from school once a week because she was scared and wanted to go
home. (Tr. 49.) Plaintiff also obtained her CNA license. (Tr. 41.) Plaintiff had not worked or
sought employment since May 2013. She last worked as a housekeeper but quit because people
were complaining about the way she cleaned. (Tr. 42.)
Plaintiff stated schizophrenia and anxiety attacks limited her ability to work. She had
schizophrenia since grade school and experienced anxiety attacks since 2001.
plaintiff worked, she became anxious, her heart started pounding, and she cried. She took Paxil,
Clonazepam, and Trazadone to control these symptoms. Her medications were effective. (Tr.
43-44.) Plaintiff attended group therapy at Egyptian Health twice a week. She believed her
schizophrenia and anxiety were “about the same.” (Tr. 45.)
On an average day, plaintiff watched television. She did not cook, and her housework
was limited to dusting once a week with her mother’s help. Plaintiff also picked up sticks in her
yard and fed her dogs and cat. She went shopping at the mall with her mother the afternoon of
the hearing. Her hobbies included collecting spoons, reading the Bible, going to the movies, and
eating out. She used a computer for Facebook. Plaintiff visited with a friend once each week
and attended church. (Tr. 45-47.) Plaintiff did not think she could live alone. (Tr. 48.)
Plaintiff’s doctor increased her Latuda because she heard voices, which made it difficult
to sleep. She started hearing voices in second grade. Plaintiff also saw people that were not
actually there. These hallucinations made it difficult to work. (Tr. 51-52.)
A vocational expert also testified. He opined that an individual with the ultimate RFC
finding would not be able to perform plaintiff’s past work but could perform other jobs that
existed in the national economy. (Tr. 55-56.)
Plaintiff presented to the Fairfield Memorial Hospital emergency room on February 24,
2013. Plaintiff’s mother stated plaintiff had been “talking out of her head” for two to three days.
Plaintiff reportedly had schizophrenia, which was well-controlled, but was talking “very
inappropriately” and exhibiting inappropriate behavior.
Plaintiff was assessed with acute
psychosis and schizophrenia and was prescribed Clonazepam and Haldol.
instructed to follow-up with Dr. Ballard in two to three days. (Tr. 346-58.)
On April 25, 2013, plaintiff presented to Nurse Practitioner Kathy Taylor at Community
Health Emergency Services for a follow-up regarding her depression. Plaintiff was taking Paxil
and Clonazepam, which provided her “great relief.” Plaintiff demonstrated an appropriate affect
and demeanor. (Tr. 456-59.)
On May 30, 2013, plaintiff was taken by ambulance to Ferrell Hospital after experiencing
a seizure at work. A CT of her brain demonstrated no acute pathology. Plaintiff received a note
indicating she was unable to work until June 3, 2013. (Tr. 362-76.)
On June 11, 2013, plaintiff presented to Dr. Elizabeth Horton at SMGS Medical Group.
Dr. Horton diagnosed plaintiff with alteration of consciousness and developmental disorder. She
noted plaintiff had a history of a febrile seizure and an aunt with epilepsy. Brain imaging was
normal. Dr. Horton ordered blood tests and an Electroencephalogram (EEG), and advised
plaintiff to follow-up in one month. (Tr. 407.)
On June 17, 2013, plaintiff underwent an EEG, which returned normal findings. (Tr.
380-81.) Plaintiff underwent a second EEG on July 10, 2013, which was also essentially normal.
Plaintiff attended a follow-up appointment at Community Health Emergency Services on
June 6, 2013. Plaintiff reported she experienced seizures six times the previous two weeks. The
episodes resulted in an inability to talk, jerking, and seeing double. The nurse practitioner
increased plaintiff’s Clonazepam and instructed her to remain off work until June 12, 2013. (Tr.
On July 9, 2013, Dr. Horton noted plaintiff had several “events” in a week while at work,
but had none since remaining at home. Dr. Horton was “concerned that the stress of the
traditional workplace may be too much for [plaintiff] with developmental limitations.” (Tr. 405.)
On August 27, 2013, plaintiff presented to Dr. Horton and reported multiple episodes of
alteration of consciousness at work. Plaintiff’s EEG, blood tests, and imaging were all normal.
Plaintiff’s mother attended the appointment and stated plaintiff was having difficulty remaining
employed. Dr. Horton instructed plaintiff not to drive for six months and follow-up in three
months. (Tr. 403.)
Evaluation and Treatment at Egyptian Health Department
Plaintiff presented to Dr. Rakesh Chandra at Egyptian Health Department in September
2013. She stated she had depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety, and wanted to get disability.
Dr. Chandra diagnosed plaintiff with schizophrenia residual type and borderline personality
disorder. Plaintiff’s global assessment of functioning (GAF) score was fifty-five.3 Plaintiff was
advised to attend individual therapy and CSG and to continue to take Klonopin, Trazadone, and
Paxil. (Tr. 496-508.)
Plaintiff reported to Dr. Chandra that she earned an associate’s degree. She stated her
academic performance history was average. Plaintiff worked for six years at Wabash Christian.
She “got into it” with another nurse and was later fired for not putting lids on the trays. She then
worked at Ridgway Manor for two years and was fired after pulling a resident backwards in a
wheelchair. Plaintiff next worked at Addis for five years and quit because she was not paid
enough. Plaintiff also worked at Enfield Nursing Home but was laid off because they had too
much help. (Tr. 509.)
Plaintiff was focused and cooperative. She had soft speech, and her recent and remote
memory were intact. No perceptual disturbances were noted. Plaintiff’s fund of information and
A GAF score “is a numeric scale of 0 through 100 used to assess severity of symptoms and functional level.” Yurt
v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 850, 853 n.2 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Am. Psychiatric Ass'n, Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders 32 (5th ed. Text revision 2000)).
thought content were normal. No delusions were noted. (Tr. 510.)
Plaintiff had a psychiatric hospitalization her junior year in high school after experiencing
visual and auditory hallucinations.
She attempted suicide by cutting her leg and took an
overdose of Tylenol. (Tr. 511.)
Dr. Chandra also conducted a Level of Care Utilization System (LOCUS) assessment,
which recommended low-intensity community based services.4 (Tr. 526-27.)
Dr. Chandra noted plaintiff appeared alert and oriented and not severely depressed,
suicidal, or psychotic. Plaintiff was able to have a coherent conversation, and her insight and
judgment were intact. (Tr. 544.)
On October 24, 2013, plaintiff followed-up with Dr. Chandra.
She was alert and
oriented, did not appear to be depressed, psychotic, or suicidal, and her insight and judgment
were intact. Dr. Chandra prescribed Latuda, Paxil, Klonopin, and Trazodone, and instructed
plaintiff to follow up in six to eight weeks. (Tr. 545.)
On December 5, 2013, Dr. Chandra continued plaintiff’s medications and advised her to
follow-up in three months. (Tr. 552.)
On May 29, 2014, plaintiff reported to Dr. Chandra that she was doing well on her
medications with no problems or difficulties. Dr. Chandra continued her medications. (Tr. 551.)
On August 21, 2014 plaintiff followed-up with Dr. Chandra and reported she had been
hearing voices and had fleeting thoughts about hurting herself or someone else. On mental status
examination, plaintiff was calm and coherent. She appeared to have some delusional thinking
and was hallucinating, although she said the voices were much better that day. Dr. Chandra
The American Association of Community Psychiatrists developed the LOCUS as a tool for mental health
professionals to determine the service and support needs of individuals with mental health challenges. MAINE.GOV,
Level of Care Utilization System (LOCUS) Implementation: Summary and Procedures, http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/
samhs/mentalhealth/mh-system/pasrr/locus/. Plaintiff’s score indicated level two care, which is low-intensity
community based services. AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF COMMUNITY PSYCHIATRISTS, LOCUS 21 (March 2009).
increased plaintiff’s medications and advised her to follow-up in two weeks. (Tr. 550.)
On September 4, 2014, plaintiff told Dr. Chandra she was doing well on her medicine.
She had no difficulties or problems at the time. She was alert and oriented and did not appear
severely depressed or psychotic. Her insight and judgment were intact. Dr. Chandra continued
plaintiff’s Trazadone, Paxil, Klonopin, and Latuda and instructed plaintiff to follow-up in three
months. (Tr. 549.)
On October 9, 2014, plaintiff told Dr. Chandra she had not slept for several nights
because she did not get all of her Trazadone. Plaintiff was alert and oriented and did not appear
severely depressed or psychotic. Her insight and judgment were intact.
On July 2, 2015, plaintiff told Dr. Chandra she was doing well on her medicine. She did
not report any problems or difficulties.
Dr. Chandra instructed plaintiff to continue her
medication and follow-up in three months. (Tr. 546.)
On April 16, 2015, plaintiff told Dr. Chandra she continued to do well on her medicine.
She did not report any specific problems or difficulties. Plaintiff was instructed to continue her
medications and follow-up in three months. (Tr. 547.)
Dr. David Warshauer’s Letter
In October 2015, Dr. David Warshauer wrote a letter stating he had known plaintiff for
several years in a professional capacity. Plaintiff met with Dr. Warshauer on a weekly basis for
group therapy. Plaintiff began hearing voices in her late teens and, although she continued to
hear voices, she received antipsychotic medications that diminished them. Plaintiff processed
information slowly, and her responses were sometimes fairly delayed. She missed the subtleties
of many conversation and situations, was very sensitive, had very poor self-esteem and
confidence, and did not do well with criticism. The only time plaintiff spent away from her
parents was when she ate at a local restaurant with a female friend and the friend’s daughter. Dr.
Warshauer opined that if plaintiff received Social Security benefits she would need a payee to
manage her financial affairs due to her mental illness and cognitive deficits. (Tr. 580-81.)
Dr. William Donaldson’s Report
Dr. William Donaldson completed a psychological report on October 14, 2015, which
included a Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) IV assessment.5 Plaintiff was cooperative
and put forth a concerted effort. Dr. Donaldson opined the test results were a reliable indicator
of plaintiff’s cognitive functioning ability. Plaintiff’s WAIS IV results were as follows:
Verbal Comprehension: 72
Perceptual Reasoning: 63
Working Memory: 71
Processing Speed: 56
Full Scale: 70
General Ability: 64
Dr. Donaldson noted plaintiff was diagnosed and receiving treatment for psychosis NOS,
depression, and anxiety. Plaintiff scored in the ninth percentile on the Verbal Comprehension
Domain and in the second percentile on the Processing Speed Domain. The results indicated
plaintiff functioned in the mild range of intellectual disability and that the developmental delay
was prior to age twenty-one. Plaintiff’s test results indicated a Full Scale IQ of seventy. Dr.
Donaldson noted plaintiff’s personal appearance and social and verbal skills masked her
cognitive disabilities. He opined plaintiff met the clinical criteria for disability benefits. (Tr.
Dr. Donaldson administered another WAIS IV on October 15, 2015, with the following
The WAIS is “[a]n intelligence scale based on verbal and performance material which takes into consideration the
age of the subject.” J.E. SCHMIDT, ATTORNEY’S DICTIONARY OF MEDICINE AND WORD FINDER (Matthew Bender
Verbal Comprehension: 80
Perceptual Reasoning: 75
Working Memory: 71
Processing Speed: 68
Full Scale: 70
General Ability: 75
State-Agency Consultant Opinions
On November 27, 2013, Dr. Howard Tin conducted a Mental RFC assessment (MRFCA)
and concluded plaintiff was moderately limited in her ability to: carry out detailed instructions;
maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; work in coordination with or in
proximity to others without being distracted; interact appropriately with the general public; and
get along with coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes.
Dr. M. W. DiFonso also completed an MRFCA on June 11, 2014, and concurred with Dr.
Tin’s assessment. (Tr. 143-44.)
Plaintiff first asserts the ALJ erred in finding she did not meet listing 12.05(C), which
relates to persons with mental retardation. To meet this listing, a claimant must establish “(1)
deficits in adaptive functioning before age 22, (2) a valid IQ score of 60 through 70, and (3) a
physical or other mental impairment imposing an additional and significant work-related
limitation of function.” Charette v. Astrue. 508 F. App’x 551, 553 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal
quotations omitted); see 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, § 12.05(C).
In the present case, plaintiff specifically contests the ALJ’s finding that she did not have
deficits in adaptive functioning. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has defined “deficits in
adaptive functioning” as the “inability to cope with the challenges of ordinary everyday life.”
Novy v. Astrue, 497 F.3d 708, 710 (7th Cir. 2007). There is no requirement that an ALJ use “a
specific measurement method” to determine whether the claimant manifested a deficit in
adaptive functioning before age twenty-two. Charette, 508 F. App’x at 553.
In reaching his decision, ALJ Martin noted plaintiff was able to complete high school,
was not in special education classes, and earned a two-year associate’s degree; plaintiff worked
full-time above substantial gainful activity levels from 1999 to 2007; and plaintiff obtained a
driver’s license and drove throughout most of her adulthood. (Tr. 20.)
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erroneously ignored and mischaracterized evidence. An ALJ
must consider all of the evidence and cannot cherry-pick portions of the record that support a
finding of non-disability while ignoring evidence that suggests disability. Denton v. Astrue, 596
F.3d 419, 425 (7th Cir. 2010).
Particularly, plaintiff states the ALJ did not acknowledge she lived her entire life with her
parents, did not think she could live by herself, needed assistance with daily activities, took four
years to complete a two-year degree with the assistance of tutors, and was fired from several
At Step 3, the ALJ dedicated several paragraphs to summarizing plaintiff’s reported
limitations in daily functioning, including plaintiff’s testimony she lived with her parents and
depended on her mother’s assistance.6 As plaintiff points out, the ALJ did not mention she was
fired from some of her jobs, took four years to complete a degree, or needed the assistance of
tutors. However, this does not constitute “cherry-picking.” The ALJ did not ignore an entire
line of evidence contrary to his ruling or mischaracterize the evidence. ALJ Martin recognized
plaintiff’s complaints that she had difficulties at work and experienced impairments in
It is proper to read the ALJ’s decision as a whole and it would be a needless formality to repeat similar analyses at
multiple steps. Rice v. Barnhart, 384 F.3d 363, 370 n.5 (7th Cir. 2004).
memorizing, concentrating, and understanding. (Tr. 21.) An ALJ is not required to mention
every piece of evidence so long as he builds a logical bridge between the evidence and his
conclusion, Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 516 (7th Cir. 2016), which ALJ Martin did here. See
Charette, 508 F. App’x at 554 (upholding the ALJ’s determination plaintiff did not have deficits
in adaptive functioning where the claimant could manage household chores, take care of his pets,
and socialize with others).
Additionally, virtually all of the evidence plaintiff set forth attests to her condition past
the age of twenty-two. The record contains minimal evidence concerning plaintiff’s cognitive
state before she reached this age. A represented claimant “is presumed to have made [her] best
case before the ALJ,” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 842 (7th Cir. 2007), and a claimant bears
the burden of establishing she meets the requirements of a listing at Step 2, Filus v. Astrue, 694
F.3d, 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2012). Plaintiff cannot fault the ALJ for her own failure to support her
claim. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 702 (7th Cir. 2004).
For the foregoing reasons, substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s determination plaintiff
did not meet listing 12.05(C).
Plaintiff next asserts the ALJ improperly weighed the opinion evidence in the record.
Plaintiff consulted Dr. Donaldson in October 2015 to obtain a psychological report. Dr.
Donaldson opined, “It would [sic] this author’s opinion that Ms. Gunter’s primary diagnosis is
Mild Intellectual Disability and that the onset of developmental delay was prior to age 21.” (Tr.
Dr. Donaldson falls within the definition of a non-treating source, which is “a physician,
psychologist, or other acceptable medical source who has examined you but does not have, or
did not have, an ongoing treatment relationship with you.” Simila, 573 F.3d at 514. The record
indicates Dr. Donaldson examined plaintiff, at most, twice, and nothing in the record
demonstrates an ongoing relationship. Moreover, plaintiff’s relationship with Dr. Donaldson
was “not based on [her] medical need for treatment or evaluation, but solely on [her] need to
obtain a report in support of [her] claim for disability.” Id.
An ALJ is required to determine the weight to assign a non-treating source’s opinion by
examining supportability, consistency, and other factors set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527.
Simila, 573 F.3d at 515. In making this determination, the ALJ is only required to “minimally
articulate his reasons.” Schmidt v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 833, 842 (7th Cir. 2007).
ALJ Martin did exactly this in assigning Dr. Donaldson’s report little weight. The ALJ
noted the report was inconsistent with plaintiff working, driving, and obtaining an associate’s
degree and her CNA. (Tr. 20.) “[T]he administrative law judge is not required or indeed
permitted to accept medical evidence if it is refuted by other evidence – which need not itself be
medical in nature. . . .” Wilder v. Chater, 64 F.3d 335, 337 (7th Cir. 1995) (emphasis added).
The ALJ’s decision to discount Dr. Donaldson’s opinion was supported by substantial evidence.
Finally, plaintiff contends the ALJ improperly substituted his own opinion for that of a
medical expert. The cases in which the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed an ALJ
for “playing doctor” “are ones in which the ALJ failed to address relevant evidence.” Dixon v.
Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1177 (7th Cir. 2001). Plaintiff does not point to any evidence the
ALJ ignored, and “the 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.” Schmidt, 496 F.3d at 845.
Accordingly, this argument fails as well.
For the reasons discussed above, substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s opinion.
The Commissioner’s final decision denying plaintiff’s application for social security
benefits is AFFIRMED.
The Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment in favor of defendant.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATE: November 21, 2017
s/ J. Phil Gilbert
J. PHIL GILBERT
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