United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
For Sutrena D. Williams, Plaintiff: Barry Alan Schultz, Law Offices of Barry Schultz, Evanston, IL.
For Michael J. Astrue, Defendant: SSA, David R Lidow, LEAD ATTORNEYS, United States Attorney's Office (NDIL), Chicago, IL.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HON. MARIA VALDEZ, United States Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Sutrena Williams (" Plaintiff") filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (" the Commissioner"), which denied her claim for Social Security Disability Insurance (" SSDI") benefits. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the following reasons, the Court denies the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 23], grants Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Reversal of Commissioner's Final Decision, and remands this case to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.
I. PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY
Plaintiff has suffered from chronic knee pain for most of her life. Unfortunately, that pain worsened considerably over the years, and, by March 2008, Plaintiff found herself losing balance frequently, falling over at work, and unable even to sit down without feeling intense pain. Plaintiff thus sought treatment from her primary physician, Dr. Park, which culminated in her having three knee surgeries. Plaintiff then filed a Title II application for SSDI benefits, alleging a disability onset date of March 23, 2008. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Accordingly, Plaintiff requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ"), who determined that Plaintiff was not disabled at Step Five of the Social Security Administration's sequential analysis.
At the hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: status-post right tibial tubercle osteotomy and medial patellofemoral ligament reconstruction. The ALJ further found that because Plaintiff had resumed her past relevant work as an assembly line worker, the relevant disability period was from March 23, 2008 to September 12, 2010. Next, after determining that Plaintiff did not meet any listed impairment, the ALJ calculated Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (" RFC") and found that she could perform sedentary work with the following exceptions: no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, only occasionally climbing ramps and stairs, and no kneeling, crouching, or crawling.
The ALJ then consulted with a Vocational Expert (" VE") to determine if Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work or any jobs in the national economy. On the basis of his RFC assessment and the VE's testimony, the ALJ concluded that although Plaintiff could not have performed her past relevant work during the alleged disability period, she could have performed other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
I. ALJ LEGAL STANDARD
Under the Social Security Act, a person is disabled if she is unable " to engage in 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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In order to determine whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ conducts a five-step analysis and considers the following in order: (1) Is the claimant presently unemployed? (2) Does the claimant have a severe impairment? (3) Does the impairment meet or medically equal one of a list of specific impairments enumerated in the regulations? (4) Is the claimant unable to perform her former occupation? and (5) Is the claimant unable to perform any other work? 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
An affirmative answer at either step 3 or step 5 leads to a finding that the claimant is disabled. Young v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 957 F.2d 386, 389 (7th Cir. 1992). A negative answer at any step, other than at step 3, precludes a finding of disability. Id. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps 1-4. Id. Once the claimant shows an inability to perform past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to ...