United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MARIE C. JIMENEZ, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MARY M. ROWLAND, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Marie C. Jimenez filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her 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 request to reverse the ALJ's decision and remand for additional proceedings. 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, 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
Plaintiff applied for DIB on December 1, 2010, alleging that she became disabled on January 1, 2007, because of diabetes, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, and myocardial infarction. (R. at 14, 73). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. ( Id. at 14, 67-73, 76-82). On March 21, 2012, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ( Id. at 14, 32-66). The ALJ also heard testimony from Lee O. Knutson, a vocational expert (VE). ( Id. at 14, 32-66, 120).
The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on April 5, 2012. (R. at 14-26). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity from January 1, 2011, her alleged onset date, through December 31, 2011, her date last insured (DLI). ( Id. at 16). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, chronic bronchitis/asthma, hypertension, high cholesterol, mild degenerative disc disease, and fibromyalgia are severe impairments. ( Id. at 16-19). 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. ( Id. at 19-20).
The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) and determined that she can perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a). (R. at 20-25). Based on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined at step four that through her DLI, Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a secretary, administrative assistant, and receptionist. ( Id. at 25-26). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability, as defined by the Act, at any time from January 1, 2007, through December 31, 2011. ( Id. at 26).
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 22, 2012. (R. at 1-4). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. ...