United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
JIMMIE G. WILEY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MARY M. ROWLAND, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Jimmie G. Wiley 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 case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
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, 976-77 (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, stops inquiry and leads to a determination that the 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 on August 16, 2010, alleging that he became disabled on August 30, 2008, because of back injury, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. (R. at 49, 83). The application was denied initially on October 1, 2010, and upon reconsideration on December 23, 2010. (R. at 49). Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing and on December 6, 2011, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (R. at 49). The ALJ also heard testimony from James M. McKenna, M.D., a medical expert (ME), and Thomas F. Dunleavy, a vocational expert (VE). (R. at 49). Juanita Wiley, Plaintiff's wife, was present at the hearing, but did not testify. ( See R. at 3).
The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on January 9, 2012. (R. at 49-56). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 30, 2008, the alleged onset date. (R. at 51). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's diabetes mellitus, diabetic neuropathy, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and obesity are severe impairments. (R. at 51). 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. (R. at 52).
The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) and determined that he retained a light level residual functional capacity (R. at 54) and could perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except that "[Plaintiff can] never climb long ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl or climb short step ladders, ramps or stairs; avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold or heat, vibration or unpredictable moving machinery; and avoid all exposure to unprotected heights." (R. at 52). Based on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work as a pipefitter [DOT #862.281-022] and plumber [DOT #862.381-030]. (R. at 55). 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 national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including occupations such as general hardware sales [DOT #279.357-050], cashier [DOT #211.462-010], cafeteria attendant [DOT #311.677-010], and assembler [DOT #739.687-030]. (R. at 56). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability as defined by the Act. (R. at 56).
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 10, 2012. (R. at 63-68). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. ...