The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morton Denlow, Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
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.
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).
III. ESTABLISHING A DISABILITY
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
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
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).
A. CLAIMANT'S PHYSICAL AND MENTAL IMPAIRMENTS
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 ...