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Trevino v. Colvin

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

December 5, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          MARY M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Humberto Trevino filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 423 et seq., 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 filed cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.


         To recover DIB or SSI, [1] 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), 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. §§ 404.1509, 404.1520, 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.


         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on November 22, 2011, alleging that he became disabled on February 1, 2011, because of broken neck and back due to car accident, migraines, and high blood pressure. (R. at 22, 147, 269). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 22, 139-47, 150-52, 162). On January 21, 2014, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 22, 51-138). The ALJ also heard testimony from Leigh Ann Bluhm, a vocational expert (VE), and Chukwuemeka Ezike, a medical expert (ME). (Id. at 22, 102-38, 187-89).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on February 5, 2014. (R. at 22- 34). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 1, 2011, the alleged onset date. (Id. at 24). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, cervical spine facet arthro-sis/spondylosis, history of fracture of the vertebra of the cervical spine, and arthritis of the bilateral knees are severe impairments. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equal the severity of any of the listings enumerated in the regulations. (Id. at 25-26).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC)[2] and determined that he has the capacity to perform light work, except that Plaintiff

is never to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but he is able to occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, kneel, stoop, crawl, crouch or bend; he is to avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes.

(R. at 26). 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. (Id. at 32). At step five, based on Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, 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 such as assembler, inspector, and hand packager. (Id. at 32-33). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not suffering from a disability, as defined by the Act. (Id. at 33-34).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 8, 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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