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Anita Saldana v. Michael J. Astrue

March 21, 2011

ANITA SALDANA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Nan R. Nolan

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Anita Saldana filed this action seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 416, 423(d), 1381a. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

I. THE FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

To recover Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") or Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Act, a claimant must establish that he or she is disabled within the meaning of the Act.*fn1 York v. Massanari, 155 F. Supp. 2d 973, 977 (N.D. Ill. 2001); Keener v. Astrue, 2008 WL 687132, at *1 (S.D. Ill. 2008). A person is disabled if he or she is unable to perform "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." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). In determining whether a claimant suffers from a disability, the ALJ conducts a standard five-step inquiry:

1. Is the claimant presently unemployed?

2. Does the claimant have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that interferes with basic work-related activities and is expected to last at least 12 months?

3. Does the impairment meet or equal one of a list of specific impairments enumerated in the regulations?

4. Is the claimant unable to perform his former occupation?

5. Is the claimant unable to perform any other work?

See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 404.1520, 416.909, 416.920; Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000). "An affirmative answer leads either to the next step, or, on Steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is disabled. A negative answer at any point, other than Step 3, ends the inquiry and leads to a determination that a claimant is not disabled." Zalewski v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 160, 162 n.2 (7th Cir. 1985). "The burden of proof is on the claimant through step four; only at step five does the burden shift to the Commissioner." Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff applied for DIB on May 18, 2007, alleging she became disabled on April 30, 1997, due to hypertension, Bell's palsy,*fn2 diabetes, depression, and a left eye problem. (R. at 8, 46, 59, 89--96.) The application was denied initially and on reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 8, 45--46, 65.)

On February 19, 2009, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. at 8, 13--44.) The ALJ also heard testimony from James M. McKenna, M.D., a medical expert ("ME") and Cheryl R. Hoiseth, a vocational expert ("VE").*fn3 (Id. at 8, 32--44, 83, 85.)

The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on March 10, 2009. (R. at 8--12.) Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of April 30, 1997, through her date last insured of March 31, 2003. (Id. at 10.) At step two, the ALJ found that while Plaintiff had the following medically determinable impairments: ankle fracture, diabetes and carpal tunnel syndrome, she did not have an impairment or combination ...


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