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Franchini v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 14, 2016

ALBERTINA FRANCHINI, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARY M. ROWLAND, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Albertina Franchini 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 filed cross-motions 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, 977 (N.D. Ill. 2001).[1] 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 May 24, 2011, alleging that she became disabled on December 1, 2008, due to cervical and lumbar degenerative disease, depression, gastro-esophageal reflux disorder (GERD), and fibromyalgia. (R. at 11, 293, 313). The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 11, 174-75, 188). On June 6, 2013, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 11, 31, 36-87, 111-13, 127-30). The ALJ also heard testimony from Plaintiff's friend Joanne Zanni, Mark I. Oberlander, Ph.D., a medical expert (ME), Ronald A. Semerdjian, M.D., also an ME, and Margaret H. Ford, a vocational expert (VE). (Id. at 11, 88-173, 266-77).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on November 29, 2013. (Id. at 11- 25). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 1, 2008, her alleged onset date. (Id. at 13). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, degenerative disease of the left shoulder, asthma by history, fibrom-yalgia by history, GERD by history, history of migraine headaches, depressive disorder secondary to a general medical condition/chronic pain syndrome, major depressive disorder, and a history of alcohol abuse and dependence. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, do not meet or medically equal the severity of any of the listings enumerated in the regulations. (Id. at 13-14).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[2] and de-termined that Plaintiff has the RFC to:

lift and/or carry up to 20 pounds occasionally, and up to 10 pounds frequently; push/pull a weight equivalence up to 20 pounds occasionally, and 10 pounds frequently; sit, stand and walk respectively, with normal breaks for up to six hours each in an eight-hour workday; may not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; but may otherwise climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl no more than occasionally; may not with the non-dominant left upper extremity perform overhead work more than occasionally; must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes/odors/dusts/gases/and other pulmonary irritants; does not possess the capacity to understand, recall, focus upon, attend to, or carry out complex or detailed instructions or to perform complex or detailed tasks, but retains the capacity [to] understand, recall focus upon, attend to and carry out simple routine instructions, and to focus upon and perform simple routine tasks (those that do not change on a daily basis), at a sustained workmanlike pace; may not perform work which requires more than incidental contact with members of the general public; may not perform work which requires that she work in direct concert or cooperation with coworkers as to the performance of joint tasks or mutual projects; but retains the capacity to perform individually assigned tasks in the presence or proximity to coworkers; and may not perform work which requires more than occasional direct dealings with supervisors, or receipt of directions from supervisors on more than an occasional basis, throughout the workday.

(R. at 14-15). Based on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff cannot perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 24). At step five, based on Plaintiff's RFC, her 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 inspector, marker, and assembler. (Id.at 24-25). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined by the Act, from the alleged onset date through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 25).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 30, 2015. (R. at 1-5.) Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009.)

         III. ...


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