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Thompson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 7, 2017

RICARDO R. THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant. [1]

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. PHIL GILBERT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Ricardo R. Thompson seeks judicial review of the final agency decision denying his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff alleged a disability beginning on December 8, 2012, and applied for benefits later that month. After holding an evidentiary hearing, ALJ Christopher Hunt denied the application in a written decision dated March 18, 2015. (Tr. 11-23). The Appeals Council denied review, and the decision of the ALJ became the final agency decision. (Tr. 2). Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies and has filed a timely complaint.

         Issues Raised by Plaintiff

         Plaintiff makes the following arguments:

(1) The ALJ erred in failing to find that plaintiff's impaired vision was a severe impairment at step two and in failing to include limitations arising from impaired vision in his residual functional capacity assessment.
(2) The ALJ failed to properly weigh the opinion of state agency consultant Richard Bilinsky, M.D., and a statement from plaintiff's former employer.

         Applicable Legal Standards

         To qualify for Disability Insurance Benefits or Supplemental Security Income, a claimant must be disabled within the meaning of the relevant statutes and regulations.[2] “Disabled” means the “inability to engage in 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). A “physical or mental impairment” is an impairment resulting from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3). “Substantial gainful activity” is work activity that involves doing significant physical or mental activities and is done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572.

         Social Security regulations set forth a five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has explained this process:

The first step considers whether the applicant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. The second step evaluates whether an alleged physical or mental impairment is severe, medically determinable, and meets a durational requirement. The third step compares the impairment to a list of impairments that are considered conclusively disabling. If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, then the applicant is considered disabled; if the impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then the evaluation continues. The fourth step assesses an applicant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and ability to engage in past relevant work. If an applicant can engage in past relevant work, he is not disabled. The fifth step assesses the applicant's RFC, as well as his age, education, and work experience to determine whether the applicant can engage in other work. If the applicant can engage in other work, he is not disabled.

Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 674 (7th Cir. 2008); accord Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565, 568-69 (7th Cir. 2011).

         Rephrased, the Court must ask the five following questions: (1) whether the claimant is presently unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that is serious; (3) whether the impairments meet or equal one of the listed impairments acknowledged to be conclusively disabling; (4) whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work within the economy, given his or her age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 512-513 (7th Cir. 2009); Schroeter v. Sullivan, 977 F.2d 391, 393 (7th Cir. 1992).

         If the answer to steps one and two is “yes, ” the claimant will automatically be found disabled if he or she suffers from a listed impairment, determined at step three. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment at step three, and cannot perform his or her past work (step four), the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant can perform some other job. Rhoderick v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984). See also Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001) (Under the five-step evaluation, an “affirmative answer leads either to the next step, or, on Steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is disabled. . . . If a claimant reaches step 5, the burden shifts to the ALJ to establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.”).

         This Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to ensure that the decision is supported by substantial evidence and that there are no mistakes of law. This scope of review is limited. “The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). In reviewing for “substantial evidence, ” the entire administrative record is taken into consideration, but this Court does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide ...


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