The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES NORGLE, District Judge
Plaintiff James Reed, Jr. ("Reed") seeks judicial review of a decision
by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying him
Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income
("SSI"). The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For
the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is
GRANTED; Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.
Reed was born on May 30, 1950 and has a high school education. From
1966 through 1996, he worked steadily and held a variety of jobs,
including truck driver, heavy equipment operator, landscape worker, and
In December 1996, Reed experienced serious medical problems. He was
hospitalized for seven days due to right hand weakness and slurred
speech. He was diagnosed with acute stroke, secondary to cocaine abuse.
Additionally, he suffered from hypertension. On December 26, 1996, Reed was discharged from the hospital and ordered to seek follow-up
testing, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.
On January 6, 1998, Reed applied for DIB and SSI. The Social Security
Administration ("SSA") denied Reed's initial applications and requests
for reconsideration. On November 9, 1999, Reed received a hearing before
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Percival Harmon. At the hearing, the ALJ
heard testimony from Reed himself, Ellis D. Johnson, M.D. ("Dr.
Johnson"), and Vocational Expert ("VE") Susan Entenberg. After
considering evidence from both the hearing and the written record, the
ALJ found that Reed was disabled for the period of December 18, 1997 to
January 28, 1999, but not thereafter. Reed subsequently sought review by
the Appeals Council, which denied review on July 13, 2001. On July 31,
2001, the Commissioner adopted the ALJ's decision.
On August 6, 2001, Reed commenced this action seeking judicial review
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Generally, Reed contends
that the mental and physical problems resulting from his stroke continue
to preclude employment, and therefore his disability status should not be
limited to the period from December 18, 1997 to January 28, 1999. The
parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment which are fully
briefed and before the court.
When reviewing an ALJ's decision, the court must affirm if it is
supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error. See
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Kasarsky v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 539, 543 (7th Cir.
2003) (per curiam). 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 (1971). "The findings of the
Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall
be conclusive." Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 305 (7th Cir. 1995). Thus, the
reviewing court does not "reweigh the evidence, resolve conflicts, decide
questions of credibility, or substitute our own judgment for that of the
Commissioner.'" Kasarsky, 335 F.3d at 543 (quoting Clifford v. Apfel,
227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000)). The court's task is limited to
determining "whether the ALJ's factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence." Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir.
2004). If the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it
will be upheld even if an alternative position is also supported by
substantial evidence. See Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 699 (7th
Where, however, "the Commissioner's decision lacks evidentiary support
or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, the case
must be remanded." Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir.
2002). The Seventh Circuit requires the ALJ to "build an accurate and
logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusions so that [the court]
may afford the claimant meaningful review of the SSA's ultimate
findings," Blakes ex rel. Wolfe v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 565, 569 (7th Cir.
2003). It is not enough that the record contains evidence to support the
ALJ's decision; if the ALJ does not rationally articulate the grounds for
that decision, then the court must remand. See Steele, 290 F.3d at 941.
In reaching his decision, the ALJ must confront evidence that does not
support his conclusion and explain why it was rejected. See Godbey v.
Apfel, 238 F.3d 803, 808 (2001): see also Heron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329,
333 (7th Cir. 1994). With these principles in mind, the court will
examine the parties' motions.
B. Review of the ALJ's Decision
Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Benefits are
available only to claimants who can establish "disability" under the
terms of the Social Security Act. The Social Security Act defines "disability" as the inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity due to physical or mental impairment(s)
which can be expected to either result in death or last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months. See 42 U.S.C. § 1614(a)(3)(A). The
Social Security Regulations require the ALJ to follow a five-step inquiry
process to determine disability status. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)-(f).
The following must be analyzed in sequence: (1) whether the claimant is
currently employed; (2) whether he has a severe impairment; (3) whether
his impairment meets or equals one listed by the Commissioner; (4)
whether the claimant can perform his past work; and (5) whether the
claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy. See
id. A claimant has the burden of proving steps one though four. See Bowen
v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). Once the first four steps are
established, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the
claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy. See
Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995).
In determining Reed's disability status, the ALJ found that Reed met
his burden of proving "disability" under the first four steps of the
evaluation process. At step five, the ALJ found that Reed was disabled
from December 18, 1997 through January 28, 1999; however, he also found
that as of January 29, 1999, Reed had the residual functional capacity
("RFC") to perform some work in the regional economy. Specifically,
relying on testimony of the VE, the ALJ opined that Reed could perform
light work, such as that required of a hotel housekeeper, a light
janitorial worker, and ...