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Hickey v. Berryhill

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

November 2, 2017

ROBERT S. HICKEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.


          MARIA VALDEZ, United States Magistrate Judge

         This 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 Opinion.



         On 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. (Id.)

         On 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).


         The ALJ 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.)



         Under 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. § 416.920(a)(4).

         An 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 ...

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