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O'Brien v. Berryhill

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

October 31, 2017

PATRICK M. O'BRIEN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Patrick O'Brien 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 Titles II and 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 is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.


         To recover Disability Insurance Benefits, 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 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 protectively applied for DIB and SSI on January 3, 2013, alleging he became disabled on August 14, 2012. (R. at 17). These claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 17, 186-87). On August 14, 2015, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Margaret Carey. (Id. at 39- 109). The ALJ also heard testimony from Gary Wilhelm, a vocational expert (VE), and Richard O'Brien, Plaintiff's father. (Id.).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on September 25, 2015. (R. at 17- 28). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of August 14, 2012. (Id. at 19). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia; traumatic brain injury; and mood disorder/affective disorder. (Id.). 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.).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[3] and determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except that he is limited to:

frequent climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, ramps and stairs, stooping, kneeling crouching, and crawling; occasional overhead reaching; simple and routine tasks with occasional decision making and occasional changes in the work environment; no more than superficial interaction with the public; can be around coworkers on a daily basis, but is limited to no more than occasional interaction and thus cannot perform tandem tasks or tasks where one production step depends on another; and will be isolated with only occasional interaction with supervisors.

(R. at 21-22). The ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff was 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 found that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including marker-retail and housekeeper. (Id. at 27). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined by the Act, from the alleged onset date through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 28).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 16, 2016. (R. at 1-6). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the ...

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