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Fredericks v. Berryhill

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

November 29, 2017

DONALD E. FREDERICKS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. 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 Donald Fredericks'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. 14] is granted in part. The case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

         BACKGROUND

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 16, 2012, Plaintiff filed a claim for DIB, alleging disability since June 8, 2010. (R. 20, 213-18.) The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. 20.) On May 7, 2014, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified by video before ALJ Karen Sayon. (R. 35-76.) Vocational expert (“VE”) Jacqueline Bethell also testified. (Id.)

         On June 10, 2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for DIB, finding him not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. 20-29.) The Social Security Administration Appeals Council 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).

         II. ALJ DECISION

         The ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from his alleged onset date of June 8, 2010. (R. 22.) At step two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of lumbar degenerative disc disease, cervical degenerative disc disease, and obesity. (Id.) The ALJ indicated at step three that 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. 23.) The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and determined that Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform light work, except that he could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and was limited to occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and climbing of ramps and ladders. (R. 24.) At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (R. 28.) Finally, at step five, the ALJ found that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, such as counter clerk, housekeeper, or laundry aide. (R. 29.). Because of this determination, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Id.)

         DISCUSSION

         I. ALJ LEGAL STANDARD

         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 Commissioner to show the claimant's ability to engage in other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.

         II. JUDICIAL REVIEW

         Section 405(g) provides in relevant part that “[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review of the ALJ's decision is limited to determining whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence or based upon legal error. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000); Stevenson v. Chater, 105 F.3d 1151, 1153 (7th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). This Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner by reevaluating facts, reweighing evidence, resolving conflicts in evidence, or deciding questions of credibility. Skinner, 478 F.3d at 841; see also Elder ...


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