The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Nan R. Nolan
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Jacqueline Kwiatkowski 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 ("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.
Plaintiff applied for DIB on July 15, 2008, alleging that she became disabled on August 22, 2006, due to lupus, heart condition, scoliosis and high blood pressure.*fn2
(R. at 9, 120, 223.) The application was denied initially and on reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 9, 53, 54, 74--75.)
On September 17, 2009, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. at 9, 20--49.) The ALJ also heard testimony from Bernard Stevens, ...