United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HARRY D. LEINENWEBER, District Judge.
Plaintiff Nasser Djadalizadeh applied for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423. An administrative law judge found that he is not disabled. Plaintiff asks this Court to reverse that decision or remand the matter to the Commissioner. For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied, and the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.
Plaintiff Nasser Djadalizadeh ("Djadalizadeh") filed his initial application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits on June 25, 2009. Certified Copy of Administrative Record, ECF No. 10 ("R.") at 159-64. The Commissioner denied his application initially and on reconsideration. Djadalizadeh requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on March 1, 2011.
At the hearing, the ALJ elicited testimony from Djadalizadeh, a psychologist expert, and a vocational expert. Djadalizadeh testified that he has a high school education and has been taking some classes at a local college. He was 38 years old at the time of the hearing. He has worked a number of unskilled jobs, recently through temporary placement agencies. He told the ALJ about his history of alcohol and drug abuse, which led ultimately to his dishonorable discharge from the United States Navy. Djadalizadeh explained that he has suffered from depression and anxiety and struggles to organize his daily affairs; for example, he has difficulty remembering to take his medication. He lives in a structured environment where staff members check on him regularly and counsel him to complete basic tasks. Recently, he was treated for a sarcoma, but the treatment appears to have been successful, as the record shows no indication of lingering effects or any need for further treatment.
Dr. Oberlander, the psychologist expert, reviewed Djadalizadeh's file and listened to his testimony. Dr. Oberlander testified that, according to treating sources and Djadalizadeh's medication history, Djadalizadeh was under treatment for a depressive disorder. Djadalizadeh also appeared to suffer from an anxiety disorder, although that disorder was not being addressed by his treating sources. Dr. Oberlander indicated that there was some evidence that Djadalizadeh suffered from a personality disorder, although not one that fit the Commissioner's listing criteria. He also noted issues related to substance abuse and said that it appeared that Djadalizadeh had been sober for the past two years. In his view, Djadalizadeh was living in a group home not because of his psychiatric disability, but for economic reasons. Based on his review of the record, Dr. Oberlander did not think that Djadalizadeh's impairments, considered alone or in combination, met or medically equaled any of the Commissioner's listing of impairments. Dr. Oberlander opined that Djadalizadeh retained the capacity for understanding, retaining, and executing simple, repetitive work activity but would need a job in a well-defined work setting that required no more than occasional contact with the public.
The Vocational Expert ("VE") testified that if Djadalizadeh were limited to unskilled work with no more than occasional contact with large groups of people, he could perform his past work as a store laborer.
In a written decision, the ALJ denied Djadalizadeh's claim. Following the appropriate five-step framework, the ALJ found at step one that Djadalizadeh had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date. R. at 92. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffers from four severe impairments: mood disorder, anxiety disorder, personality disorder, and substance addiction disorder. Id. At step three, the ALJ concluded that Djadalizadeh does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the Commissioner's listed impairments. R. at 93 The ALJ determined that Djadalizadeh has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") "to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, " subject to the limitation that "he is unable to perform more than simple, repetitive work tasks; unable to tolerate more than occasional interaction with large groups of people; and unable to independently plan work tasks." R. at 95. At step four, the ALJ found that Djadalizadeh can perform his past relevant work as a store laborer. R. at 97.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
To establish a disability, a claimant must demonstrate that he has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, expected to last at least twelve months or result in death, that rendered him unable to engage in substantial gainful work. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d). To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner utilizes a sequential evaluation process that asks five questions: (1) whether the claimant is currently employed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment is one that the Commissioner considers conclusively disabling; (4) if the claimant does not have a conclusively disabling impairment, whether he can perform his past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The claimant bears the burden on the first four questions, but the burden rests with the Commissioner on the fifth step. Briscoe ex. rel . Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 352 (7th Cir. 2005).
Where, as here, the Commissioner's Appeals Council denies review, the ALJ's decision stands as the Commissioner's final decision. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1455, 416.1481. The Social Security Act authorizes this Court to review the Commissioner's final decision to deny benefits. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The reviewing Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision if the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and supported the decision with substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence" is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). The Court does not reconsider facts or determine credibility. Id.
A. Step Three
Djadalizadeh takes issue with the ALJ's step three conclusion that his impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The ALJ referenced Listings 12.04, 12.06, 12.08, and 12.09, but Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's conclusion only with respect to Listing 12.04 for ...