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Lorenz v. Berryhill

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

September 20, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          MARY M. ROWLAND, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Fred John Lorenz filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits 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 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 remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.


         To 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).[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). 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; 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.


         Plaintiff applied for DIB on January 5, 2015, alleging that he became disabled on January 1, 2015, due to COPD, joint disease, hypertension, acute bronchitis, major depression, and tobacco abuse. (R. at 13, 213). The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 13, 68-97, 112-13). On April 6, 2016, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 13, 29-67). The ALJ also heard testimony from Thomas A. Gusloff, a vocational expert (VE). (Id. at 13, 59-65, 289).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on May 16, 2016. (R. at 13-24). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2015, the alleged onset date. (Id. at 15). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's obesity, right hip degenerative joint disease and bursitis, lumbar spondylosis and stenosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are severe impairments. (Id. at 15-18). 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 13).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[3] and determined that he can perform light work, except he “can frequently but not constantly balance, kneel and crawl. [Plaintiff] must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards (defined as work at heights) or respiratory irritants.” (R. at 18-19; see Id. at 19-24). Based on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a security guard and cashier. (Id. at 24). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability as defined by the Act. (Id.).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 9, 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. ...

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