United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
ROBERT S. HICKEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
VALDEZ, United States Magistrate Judge
action was brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review
the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying
Plaintiff Robert Hickey's (“Plaintiff”) claim
for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). The
parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United
States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion for
summary judgment [Doc. No. 16] is granted in part. The case
is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
September 5, 2012, Plaintiff protectively filed a claim for
DIB, alleging disability since November 19, 2005. (R. 34,
188-89.) The claim was denied initially and upon
reconsideration, after which Plaintiff timely requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Id.) On May 23, 2014,
Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified by
video before ALJ Edward Studzinski. (R. 54- 102.) Vocational
expert (“VE”) Matthew Lampley also testified.
September 9, 2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for
DIB, finding him not disabled under the Social Security Act.
(R. 34-48.) The Social Security Administration Appeals
Council then denied Plaintiff's request for review,
leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the
Commissioner and, therefore, reviewable by the District Court
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Haynes v.
Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005).
found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity from his alleged onset date of
November 19, 2005, through his date last insured of December
31, 2010. (R. 36.) At step two, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative and
discogenic disorders of the spine, and residual pain and
limitation resulting from lumbar spine surgery.
(Id.) The ALJ indicated at step three that through
the date last insured, Plaintiff did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled
the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 37.) The ALJ then
assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and determined the following:
The claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), occasionally
lifting and/or carrying a maximum of 20 pounds; frequently
lifting and/or carrying 10 more frequently; no limitations in
sitting, standing, and/or walking in an 8 hour workday.
However, the claimant can assume any one position for no more
than 60 continuous minutes. After sitting, standing, and/or
walking for 60 continuous minutes, the claimant would then
need to assume a different position for up to five (5)
minutes before resuming the prior position. While alternating
position in this manner the claimant would not need to
abandon his workstation or lose track of his assigned job
duties. The claimant is able to use the bilateral upper and
lower extremities frequently but not constantly for pushing
and/or pulling and the operation of foot controls. The
claimant should never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and
should no more than occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. The claimant is not
to perform constant/repetitive or extreme (more than 75%
of the normal range of motion (ROM)) neck motions. The
claimant should not drive or operate moving machinery at
work, and should never work at unprotected heights, around
exposed flames, or around unguarded large bodies of water.
The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to unguarded,
hazardous machinery. The claimant is limited to jobs that
require the performance of no more than simple, routine,
repetitive tasks, simple decision-making, occasional, minor
changes in the work setting, and jobs that require no more
than simple judgment.
(R. 38.) At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was
unable to perform any past relevant work. (R. 46.) Finally,
at step five, the ALJ found that prior to December 31, 2010,
there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the
national economy that Plaintiff could have performed, such as
bench assembler or electrical assembler. (R. 47-48.) Because
of this determination, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
been disabled during the material period at issue. (R. 48.)
ALJ LEGAL STANDARD
the Social Security Act, a person is disabled if he has an
“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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(a). In order to determine whether a claimant
suffers from a disability, the ALJ considers the following
five questions in order: (1) Is the claimant presently
unemployed? (2) Does the claimant have a severe impairment?
(3) Does the impairment meet or medically equal one of a list
of specific impairments enumerated in the regulations? (4) Is
the claimant unable to perform his former occupation? and (5)
Is the claimant unable to perform any other work? 20 C.F.R.
affirmative answer at either step three or step five leads to
a finding that the claimant is disabled. Young v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 957 F.2d 386,
389 (7th Cir. 1992). A negative answer at any step, other
than at step three, precludes a finding of disability.
Id. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps
one through four. Id. Once the claimant shows an
inability to perform past work, the burden then shifts to the