United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
ROBERT J. SKUBISZ, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MARY M. ROWLAND, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Robert J. Skubisz filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security 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 Skubisz has filed a motion 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 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
Skubisz applied for DIB on February 27, 2008, alleging that he became disabled on January 1, 2004, due to back problems, loss of feeling in his left leg, and nerve damage. (R. at 19, 186, 196). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration, after which Skubisz filed a timely request for a hearing. ( Id. at 19, 104-07, 112-18, 121-27, 130-37). On May 18, 2010, Skubisz, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ( Id. at 19, 40-103). The ALJ also heard testimony from Walter J. Miller, M.D., a medical expert (ME) and Grace Gianforte, a vocational expert (VE). ( Id. at 19, 40-103, 139, 141).
The ALJ denied Skubisz's request for benefits on June 15, 2011. (R. at 19-32). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Skubisz had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from January 1, 2004, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2008, his date last insured (DLI). ( Id. at 21). At step two, the ALJ found that Skubisz's lumbar degenerative disc disease with chronic low back pain and morbid obesity are severe impairments. ( Id. ). At step three, the ALJ determined that Skubisz 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 23). The ALJ then assessed Skubisz's residual functional capacity (RFC) and determined that he has the RFC to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), except that he is limited to:
standing/walking for about two hours in an eight-hour workday and requiring a sit-stand option. Additionally, he could occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, or balance, but could never climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.
(R. at 23). At step four, the ALJ determined that Skubisz was unable to perform any past relevant work. ( Id. at 30-31). At step five, based on Skubisz's RFC, his vocational factors and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Skubisz can perform, including assembler, bench worker/solderer, and polisher. ( Id. at 31-32). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Skubisz was not suffering from a disability as defined by the Act. ( Id. at 32).
The Appeals Council denied Skubisz request for review on July 26, 2012. (R. at 1-5). Skubisz now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. ...