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Jones v. Berryhill

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

September 12, 2017

STEVEN JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARY M. ROWLAND UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Steven Jones filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Social Security Income under Title XVI 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 affirmed.

         I. THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

         To recover Social Security Income (SSI), a claimant must establish that he or she is disabled within the meaning of the Act.[2] 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 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 her 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 SSI on August 7, 2012, alleging that he became disabled on March 12, 2010, due to mental conditions. (R. at 261-266, 276). The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 142-165, 176-78). On August 26, 2014, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, presented at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 35-86). The ALJ also heard testimony from Larry M. Kravitz, Psy.D., a medical expert (ME), and Linda Gels, a vocational expert (VE). (Id.).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on December 22, 2014. (R. at 16- 34). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 7, 2012, his application date. (Id. at 21). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the severe impairments of depression, personality disorder, obesity, hypertension, and osteoarthritis. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of any of the listings enumerated in the regulations. (Id. at 21-24).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[3] and determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work, except:

[H]e can occasionally lift and carry twenty pounds; can frequently lift and carry ten pounds; can be on his feet standing and walking for at least six hours in an eight hour workday, with normal rest periods; can sit for at least six hours in an eight hour work day, with normal rest periods; occasionally climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps or stairs; occasionally kneel, crouch or crawl; can constantly understand remember and carryout very short and simple instructions; can constantly maintain attention and concentration for extended periods for the work stated above; can constantly make simple work-related decisions and use judgment; can constantly complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods; can occasionally interact appropriately with the general public with superficial contact; can constantly accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; can occasionally get along with coworkers and peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes, but no joint tasks; and no jobs that require meeting strict production.

(R. at 24; see Id. at 24-28). Based on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff cannot perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 28). 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 cleaner/housekeeper, machine tender, and hand packager. (Id. at 29). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not under a disability, as defined by the Act. (Id. at 30).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 22, 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).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is authorized by § 405(g) of the Act. 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. Barnhart, 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 “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. 2002).

         IV. RELEVANT ...


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