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Abuawad v. Colvin

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

January 19, 2017

MOHAMMAD ABUAWAD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARY M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Mohammad Abuawad filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) 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 February 24, 2012, alleging that he became disabled on January 25, 2011, due to degenerative lumbar disc disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis in both knees, and gout. (R. at 61, 93). The application was denied initially on May 21, 2012, and upon reconsideration on November 2, 2012, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 61, 93-100, 103-12, 193). On April 18, 2014, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 7-53, 61). The ALJ also heard testimony from Chukwuemeka Ezike, M.D., a medical expert, and Matthew C. Lampley, a vocational expert (VE). (Id.).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on May 2, 2014. (R. at 61-69). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity from January 25, 2011, his alleged onset date, through December 31, 2012, his date last insured (DLI).[2] (Id. at 63). At step two, the ALJ found that through the DLI, Plaintiff's history of hypertension, diabetes mellitus, gout, history of obesity, lumbar degenerative disc disease, left knee meniscal tear, arthritis, left Achilles tendinopathy, history of right retinal detachment, and history of chronic kidney disease were severe impairments. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that through the DLI, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any of the listings enumerated in the regulations. (Id.).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[3] and determined that through the DLI, ...


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