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Ewing v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 16, 2014

LINDA EWING, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARY M. ROWLAND, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Linda Ewing filed this action seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 423 et seq, 1381 et seq. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and filed cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

To recover DIB or SSI, a claimant must establish that he or she is disabled within the meaning of the Act. York v. Massanari, 155 F.Supp.2d 973, 977 (N.D. Ill. 2001).[2] 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 Commissioner 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 4, 2010, alleging that she became disabled on December 31, 2003, due to disorders of the back, degenerative arthritis, neuritis, cervical radiculopathy, and shoulder pain. (R. at 91-94). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. ( Id. at 95, 99, 110, 114, 118). On March 4, 2011, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ( Id. at 35-74, 83-87). The ALJ also heard testimony from Randall Harding, a vocational expert (VE). ( Id. at 72-83, 87-89). The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on April 12, 2011. ( Id. at 12-20).

Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 31, 2003, the alleged onset date.[3] (R. at 14). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis of her cervical spine with continued difficulties following spinal fusion, neuritis, fibroids, peripheral neuropathy, a bunion, degenerative joint disease, and obesity. ( Id. ). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of any of the listings enumerated in the regulations. ( Id. at 14-15).

The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC)[4] and determined that she can perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except that she can lift and/or carry 10 pounds occasionally or frequently. She can stand and walk for a total of no more than about 2 hours of an 8-hour workday, and she can sit for a total of approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour workday, for a total of 8 hours. She can occasionally bend, stoop, turn, climb, push and pull.

(R. at 15). At step four, based on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a secretary. ( Id. at 20). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability as defined by the Act. ( Id. ).

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 11, 2012. (R. at 1-6). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. ...


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