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Williams v. Colvin

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

November 17, 2016

HOMER WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARY M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Homer Williams filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1381 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 SSI, 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. § 416.905(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. §§ 416.909, 416.920; 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 protectively applied for SSI on August 1, 2012, [2] alleging that he became disabled on February 7, 1996, due to a gunshot wound in the right leg, depression, high blood pressure, and seizures. (R. at 17, 156, 175, 179). The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 17, 60-78, 99). On February 4, 2014, Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before Roxanne J. Kelsey, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 17, 34-59). The ALJ also heard testimony from George B. Paprocki, a vocational expert (VE). (Id. at 17, 51-59, 146).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on April 24, 2014. (R. at 17-28). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 1, 2012, the application date. (Id. at 19). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's abscess on right thigh, seizures, history of gunshot wound to the right leg, polysubstance dependence in remission, mood disorder, and antisocial personality disorder are severe impairments, but that hypertension is not. (Id.). 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 19-22).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC)[3] and determined that he can perform medium work, except he

can never climb ladders, rope or scaffolds; and no more than occasional concentrated exposure to hazards such as dangerous, moving machinery or unprotected heights. [Plaintiff] lacks the ability to understand, remember and carry out detailed instructions, but retains the sustained concentration necessary for simple work. [Plaintiff] may have occasional brief and superficial contact with the general public.

(Id. at 22). The ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (Id. at 26). Based on Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined at step five that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including warehouse worker and industrial cleaner. (Id. at 27-28). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability, as defined by the Act. (Id. at 28).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 17, 2015. (R. at 1-5). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the ...


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