United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
GINA L. SALETTA, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, acting commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MARIA VALDEZ, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Gina Saletta ("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 , grants in part and denies in part Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of Her Motion to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security , and remands this case to the Commissioner pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.
I. PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY
Since 2008, Plaintiff has suffered from intense back and leg pain. After seeing a variety of physicians, she was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis. Unfortunately, she saw little success with prescribed medications and therapy, and her back problems deteriorated to the point of interfering with virtually all aspects of her life. Plaintiff thus filed a Title II application for SSDI benefits, alleging a disability onset date of November 15, 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 Four of the Social Security Administration's sequential analysis.
At the hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from one severe impairment: lumbar stenosis. After determining that Plaintiff did not meet any listed impairment, the ALJ then calculated Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") and found that she could perform sedentary work with the following exceptions: she must never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and only occasionally climb ramps and stairs; she should only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; she should avoid concentrated exposure to workplace hazards, such as heights and moving machinery; and she must be allowed to sit for forty-five minutes before standing for one to two minutes.
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 her RFC assessment and the VE's testimony, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a switchboard operator. Accordingly, the ALJ determined 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 show the claimant's ability to engage in other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.
II. JUDICIAL REVIEW
Judicial review of the ALJ's decision is limited to determining whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence or based upon legal error. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000); Stevenson v. Chater, 105 F.3d 1151, 1153 (7th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Under this standard, the ALJ is not required to address "every piece of evidence or testimony in the record, [but] the ALJ's analysis must provide some glimpse into the reasoning behind her decision to deny benefits." Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001). Rather, the ALJ must simply "build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion, " Clifford, 227 F.3d at 872, and minimally articulate the "analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review." Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005).
In reviewing an ALJ's decision, a court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner by reevaluating facts, reweighing evidence, resolving conflicts in evidence, or deciding questions of credibility. Skinner, 478 F.3d at 841. Thus, where conflicting evidence would allow reasonable minds to differ, the court must defer to the ...