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March 13, 2002


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morton Denlow, Judge


This case comes before the Court for a review of the final decision of Defendant the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying Plaintiff, Charles Jones ("Claimant" or "Jones"), supplemental security income ("551") under the Social Security Act ("SSA" or "Act") 42 U.S.C. § 1382 (a)(1)(A). Jones asserts he is disabled due to a heart condition, high blood pressure and depression. (R. 72).

Jones seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision finding that he was not disabled. The matter comes before this Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. The issue to be decided is whether substantial evidence in the record supports the finding of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALT") that Jones was not disabled. For the reasons set forth below, the Court reverses the ALJ's decision and remands the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this opinion beginning at Step Four.


Jones filed an application for SSI benefits in January, 1991. (R. 27). After a hearing before an ALJ, Jones' application was granted. He was found disabled with substance abuse being a contributing factor material to his disability. Id. After the enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (the "Welfare Reform Act"), Jones was notified his SSI benefits would cease as of January, 1997. Id. Jones reported his disability was unrelated to substance abuse and requested a review of his benefits termination. The termination decision was affirmed on February 11, 1997, after a face-to-face reconsideration hearing. (R. 58-70).

Jones filed a timely request for a hearing before an ALJ. (R. 71). The hearing was originally scheduled for March 27, 1998, but Jones appeared and requested postponement to seek representation. (R. 51-57). A hearing was then held before ALJ Helen G. Cropper on May 6, 1998, and Jones appeared with counsel. (R. 334-444).

In her November 27, 1998 decision, the ALJ found Jones was not disabled at any time after January 1, 1997, and he had the physical and mental residual functional capacity ("RFC") to return to his past relevant work. (R. 24-49). Jones filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's finding by the Commissioner's Appeal Council on January 29, 1999. (R. 22). Jones request was denied on February 16, 2001, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Commissioner (R. 9-10). Jones subsequently filed a request for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g).


Judicial review of a Commissioner's final decision is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g) which provides that the "findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . ." An ALJ's decision becomes the Commissioner's final decision if the Appeals Council denies a request for review. Wolfe v. Shalala, 997 F.2d 321, 322 (7th Cir. 1993). Under such circumstances, the decision reviewed by the district court is the decision of the ALJ. Eads it Secretary of the Dept. of Health and Human Serv., 983 F.2d 815, 816 (7th Cir. 1993). A reviewing court may not decide facts anew, reweigh evidence, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995).

Judicial review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards in reaching its decision and whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support his findings. Scivally v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1070, 1075 (7th Cir. 1992); 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, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if the evidence "compels" reversal, not merely because the evidence supports a contrary decision. INS v. Zacarias, 502 U.S. 478, 481, 112 S.Ct. 812, 815 n. 1 (1992). The SSA gives a court the power to enter a judgment "affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g).


The Social Security Regulations provide for a five-step process to determine whether the claimant has established a "disability." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (a). The process is sequential; if the ALJ finds the claimant is disabled or is not disabled at any step in the process, the analysis ends. Id. In the first step, the ALJ considers whether the claimant is working and whether such work is "substantial gainful activity." Id. at § 404.1520(b). If the claimant is working, the ALJ will find he is not disabled irrespective of medical condition, age, education and work experience. Id.

If the claimant is not working, the ALJ will address step two: whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that is "severe." Id. at § 404.1520(c). A "severe" impairment is one which "significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." Id. Basic work activities include sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, reaching, handling, seeing, hearing, speaking, understanding, carrying out and remembering simple work instructions, and using judgment. Id. at § 404.1521(b). The ALJ is to consider the combined effect of multiple impairments "without regard to whether any [single] impairment, if considered separately, would be of sufficient severity." Id. at § 404.1523; 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(2)(B). If the ALJ finds the claimant does not have a severe impairment the claimant is found not to be disabled and the sequential analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. at § 404.1520 (b).

If the ALJ finds the claimant's impairment is severe, the ALJ considers step three: whether the severe impairment meets any of the impairments listed in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Regulations No. 4. Id. at § 404.1520(c). If the claimant's impairment meets or equals any impairments listed in the regulations, the ALJ will find the claimant is disabled.

If the impairment does not meet any listed impairment the ALJ moves to step four, which involves a consideration of claimant's "residual functional capacity" and the "physical and mental demands" of the past relevant work experience. Id. at § 404.1520(e). A claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") is what that person is able to do, despite his or her limitations. Id. at § 404.1545. If the claimant is still able to perform work that he had performed in the past, the ALJ will find the claimant is not disabled. Id. at § 404.1520(e).

If the claimant's impairment is so severe that he is unable to perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner in step five to show the claimant, considering his age, education, past work experience, and RFC, is capable of performing other work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(2)(A).



Originally, Jones claimed his disability was due to various physical impairments and a mental impairment of depression. (R. 31-36). The ALJ determined none of Jones' physical or mental impairments are so severe as to medically meet or equal a listed impairment under the Code of Federal Regulations, and he had the ability to return to work. (R. 30, 42). The Claimant and the defendant have not disputed the ALJ's finding with regard to ...

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