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Mladucky v. Colvin

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

July 21, 2014

SUSAN MLADUCKY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARY M. ROWLAND, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Susan Mladucky filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for Disability Insur-ance 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 Magis-trate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and Plaintiff has filed a request to re-verse the ALJ's decision and remand for additional proceedings. For the reasons stated below, the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opin-ion.

I. 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).[1] 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 disa-bled." 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

Mladucky protectively filed for DIB on October 26, 2010, alleging that she be-came disabled on October 4, 2010, because of depression and knee problems. (R. at 17, 151, 162). Defendant denied Maladucky's application initially and on reconsid-eration, after which Mladucky filed a timely request for a hearing. ( Id. at 17, 74-80, 86-89, 91-92). On March 9, 2012, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ( Id. at 17, 36-73). The ALJ also heard testimony from James J. Radke, a vocational expert (VE). ( Id. at 17, 36-73, 121-22).[2]

The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on April 25, 2012. (R. at 17-31). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 4, 2010, the alleged onset date. ( Id. at 19). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's knee arthritis constitutes a severe impairment, but found Plaintiff's mental impairments of depression and anxiety nonsevere. ( Id. at 19-20). At step three, the ALJ deter-mined 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 21).

The ALJ then assessed Mladucky's residual functional capacity (RFC)[3] and de-termined that she has the RFC to perform less than the full range of light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b):

[Plaintiff] can lift and/or carry no more than 20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently, can stand and/or walk approximately 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. [Plaintiff] requires a sit/stand option that would permit her to sit intermittently for approximately 2 hours in an 8-hour workday. [Plaintiff] cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaf-folds; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; and can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl.

(R. at 21-22). At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is capable of perform-ing her past relevant work as a retail manager as generally performed in the econ-omy. ( Id. at 30-31). The Appeals Council denied Mladucky's request for review on June 7, 2013. (R. at 1-6). Mladucky now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the ...


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