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Tadros v. Berryhill

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

July 20, 2017

ELIAS N. TADROS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARY M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Elias N. Tadros filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title 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.

         I. THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

         To recover DIB or 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).[2] 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.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI benefits on June 23, 2013, alleging that he became disabled on May 25, 2013, due to pain from a bulging disc in his back. (R. at 18, 219). The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 18, 70-109, 130-50). On August 26, 2015, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 18, 37-69). The ALJ also heard testimony from Edward Pagella, a vocational expert (VE). (Id. at 18, 64-67).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on November 12, 2015. (R. at 18- 27). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 25, 2013, the alleged onset date. (Id. at 20). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, and obesity are severe impairments. (Id. at 20-21). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of any of the listings enumerated in the regulations. (Id. at 21).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[3] and determined that he can perform light work, except “he can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; can occasionally crouch, stoop, and climb ramps and stairs; and can frequently handle and finger bilaterally.” (R. at 21). 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 26). At step five, based on Plaintiff's RFC, his 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 sorter, assembler, and packer. (Id. at 26-27). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability as defined by the Act. (Id. at 27).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 18, 2016. (R. at 1-4). 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. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Judicial 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 evidence, 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. 2005).

         Although 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 ...


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