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Lee v. Berryhill

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

September 18, 2017

MARK WAYNE LEE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARY M. ROWLAND, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Mark Wayne Lee filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 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 Plaintiff has filed a request to reverse the ALJ's decision and remand for additional proceedings. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         I. THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

         To recover 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. § 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. §§ 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 SSI on May 30, 2013, alleging that he became disabled on January 1, 2002, due to depression, illiteracy, hernia, arthritis, hole in eardrum, and hearing loss. (R. at 11, 169). The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 11, 60-81, 98-100). On April 21, 2015, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 11, 30-59). The ALJ also heard testimony from Gary Paul Wilhelm, a vocational expert (VE). (Id. at 11, 23- 59; see Id. at 133-35).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on May 14, 2015. (R. at 11-25). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 30, 2013, the application date. (Id. at 13). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's borderline intellectual functioning and depression are severe impairments. (Id. at 13-16). 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 16-20).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[3] and determined that he can perform a full range of work at all ...


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