United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MARY M. ROWLAND, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Ronald Ray Corbin filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 423 et seq. 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, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
I. THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
To recover Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), 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). 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). 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; 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 in 2006, alleging that he became disabled on March 23, 2002, because of problems related to several knee procedures. (R. at 14, 67, 122, 183). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. ( Id. at 14, 67-72, 77-80, 82). On March 24, 2009, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ( Id. at 14, 29-66). The ALJ also heard testimony from Michael C. McClanahan, Ph.D., a vocational expert (VE). ( Id. at 14, 29-66, 121).
The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on June 17, 2009. (R. at 14-22). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity from March 23, 2002, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2003, his date last insured. ( Id. at 16). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's arthritis of the left knee and status post total left knee replacement are severe impairments. ( Id. ). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of any of the listings enumerated in the regulations. ( Id. at 17).
The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) and determined that he could perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) except that Plaintiff could
occasionally lift and/or carry 10 pounds and frequently lift and/or carry less than 10 pounds; push and/or pull within the limits given for lifting and carrying; he could stand and/or walk (with normal breaks) for a total of at least 2 hours in an 8-hour workday; he could sit (with normal breaks) for a total of about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. [Plaintiff] could only occasionally climb ramps and stairs and kneel and he could never climb ladder/rope/scaffolds [ sic ] or crawl; [Plaintiff] needed crutches to ambulate.
(R. at 17) (citations omitted). Based on Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. ( Id. at 20). At step five, based on Plaintiff's RFC, his 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 food and beverage order clerk. ( Id. at 21). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability as defined by the Act. ( Id. at 22).
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 24, 2011. (R. at 1-3). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is authorized by § 405(g) of the SSA. In reviewing this decision, the Court may not engage in its own analysis of whether the plaintiff is severely impaired as defined by the Social Security Regulations. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Nor may it "reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, decide questions of credibility, or, in general, substitute [its] own judgment for that of the Commissioner." Id. The Court's task is "limited to determining whether the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence." Id. (citing § 405(g)). Evidence is considered substantial "if a reasonable person would accept it as adequate to support a conclusion." Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 473 (7th Cir. 2004). "Substantial evidence must be more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance." Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). "In ...