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Jamie Marie Blackburn v. Michael J. Astrue

January 3, 2012

JAMIE MARIE BLACKBURN, 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 Jamie Marie Blackburn filed this action seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA"). 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 Plaintiff has filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, this case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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 SSA,*fn1 a claimant must establish that he or she is disabled within the meaning of the SSA. 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 or her former occupation?

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

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 404.1520, 416.909, 416.920; see 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 and SSI on March 16, 2006, alleging she became disabled on August 26, 2005, due to right knee injury and depression. (R. at 11, 22--24, 38, 49, 61, 73--77, 337--39.) The application was denied initially and on reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 11, 22--24, 31, 34--38, 45--49, 325--36.)

On September 30, 2008, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. at 11, 344--77.) The ALJ also heard testimony from Edward A. Pagella, a vocational expert ("VE"). (Id.)

The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on November 5, 2008. (R. at 11-- 19.) Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 26, 2005, her alleged onset date. (Id. at 13.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's degenerative joint disease and affective disorder are severe impairments. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of any of the listings enumerated in the regulations. (Id. at 14.)

The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC")*fn2 and determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform a full range of sedentary work but can only perform occasional postural maneuvers. (R. at 14.) Based on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 18.) At step five, based on Plaintiff's RFC, her vocational factors and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the regional economy that Plaintiff can perform, including work as a hand sorter, bench assembler, or hand packer. (Id.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability as defined by the SSA. (Id. at 18--19.)

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 24, 2009. (R. at 4A--4C). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. ...


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