United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge
Dean Baizer 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
THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
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
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
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
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
applied for DIB on July 19, 2012, alleging that he became
disabled on November 3, 2011, due to lower back pain,
spondylolysis,  and poor blood circulation in the legs.
(R. at 94). The application was denied initially on September
12, 2012, and upon reconsideration on April 4, 2013, after
which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing.
(Id. at 94-102, 103-116). On June 18, 2014,
Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at
35-93). The ALJ also heard testimony from Ronald A.
Semerdjian, M.D., a medical expert, and Craig Johnston, a
vocational expert (VE). (Id.).
denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on September 25,
2014. (R. at 12- 28). Applying the five-step sequential
evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that
Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity from
November 3, 2011, his alleged onset date, through September
25, 2014, the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id.
at 17). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's
lumbar strain and sprain; L5 bilateral spondylolysis with
mild spondylolisthesis; L5-S1 minimal grade one
anterolisthesis with bilateral pars defect but no central
stenosis; bilateral neu- ral foraminal annular
fissures with mild neural foraminal narrowing; and left groin
meralgia paresthetica were severe impairments. (Id. at
17-18). At step three, the ALJ determined that 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. at 18).
then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity
(RFC) and determined that Plaintiff could
perform sedentary work, except “[he] should avoid
climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds and may only
occasionally stoop, crouch, and bend. He should avoid
exposure to dangerous moving machinery or unprotected
heights, may not balance on uneven or slippery surfaces, and
should have no exposure to extreme cold, at zero degrees
Celsius or less.” (R. at 19). At step four, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff is unable to perform any 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 production assembler, parts sorter,
and cashier. (Id. at 26-27). Accordingly, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability,
as defined by the Act. (Id. at 26-27).
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
March 15, 2016. (R. at 1-6). 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).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of the Commissioner's final decision is authorized
by § 405(g) of the SSA. In reviewing this decision, the
Court may not engage in its own analysis of whether the
plaintiff is severely impaired as defined by the Social
Security Regulations. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d
995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Nor may it “reweigh
evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, decide questions
of credibility, or, in general, substitute [its] own judgment
for that of the Commissioner.” Id. The
Court's task is “limited to determining whether the
ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial
evidence.” Id. (citing § 405(g)).
Evidence is considered substantial “if a reasonable
person would accept it as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d
470, 473 (7th Cir. 2004); see Moore v. Colvin, 743
F.3d 1118, 1120-21 (7th Cir. 2014) (“We will uphold the
ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial
evidence, that is, such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.”) (citation omitted). “Substantial
evidence must be more than a scintilla but may be less than a
preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d
836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). “In addition to relying on
substantial evi- dence, the ALJ must also explain his
analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to
permit meaningful appellate review.” Briscoe ex
rel. Taylor v. Barn-hart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir.
this Court accords great deference to the ALJ's
determination, it “must do more than merely rubber
stamp the ALJ's decision.” Scott v.
Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation
omitted). “This deferential standard of review is
weighted in favor of upholding the ALJ's decision, but it
does not mean that we scour the record for supportive
evidence or rack our brains for reasons to uphold the
ALJ's decision. Rather, the ALJ must identify the
relevant evidence and build a ‘logical bridge'
between that evidence and the ultimate determination.”
Moon v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 718, 721 (7th Cir. 2014).
Where the Commissioner's decision “lacks
evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent
meaningful review, the case must be remanded.”
Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir.
RELEVANT MEDICAL EVIDENCE
October, 12, 2010, Plaintiff went to the Emergency Room after
slipping and falling down two stairs at work, resulting in
right lower back pain radiating to the lower leg. (R. at
383-96). A lumbar spine x-ray indicated bilateral
spondylolysis with spondylolisthesis, disc space narrowing,
and bilateral facet arthropathy. (Id. at 396).
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) results showed minimal
anterolisthesis with bilateral pars defects, no central
stenosis, and bilateral neural foraminal fissures with mild
neural foraminal narrowing. (Id. at 423). On