United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MICHAEL D. MCAFEE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MARIA 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 Michael McAfee's (“Plaintiff”)
claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
and Social Security Income (“SSI”) under Title II
and Title VXI of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”). 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 Brief in Support of Reversing the Decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security, which this Court will
construe as a motion for summary judgment, is granted and the
Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment [Doc.
No. 21] is denied.
filed an application for DIB and SSI on August 6, 2012,
alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2010, due to a
heart condition, high blood pressure and back pain. (R.
192-201, 224.) His initial application was denied on November
14, 2010, and again at the reconsideration stage on April 3,
2012. (R. 71- 87, 88-105.) Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on May
31, 2013. (R. 131-133.) The hearing was held on July 15,
2014. (R. 30-70.) Plaintiff appeared at the hearing
represented by counsel and offered testimony. (Id.)
A vocational expert also appeared and offered testimony.
(Id.) On August 28, 2014, the ALJ issued a partially
favorable written decision, finding Plaintiff became disabled
on June 15, 2014. (R. 10-29.) The Appeals Council
(“AC”) denied review on December 28, 2015,
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); Herron
v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 332 (7th Cir. 1994); (R. 1-6.)
The ALJ Decision
found at step one that Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of
January 1, 2010. (R. 16.) At step two, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff had severe impairments of obesity, coronary artery
disease status post myocardial infarction, and osteoarthritis
of the left knee. (Id.) The ALJ concluded at step
three that Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in
combination, did not meet or medically equal a Listing. (R.
17.) The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff retained the RFC
to perform light work, with the following limitations: He
should avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants
such as fumes, odors, dusts, gases and poor ventilation.
(Id.) The ALJ concluded at step four that Plaintiff
could not perform any past relevant work. (R. 22.)
the ALJ found that on June 15, 2014 Plaintiff's age
category changed to an individual of advanced age. (R. 23.)
At step five, the ALJ determined that prior to June 15, 2014,
based upon Plaintiff's age, education, work experience,
and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers
in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed.
(Id.) However, beginning on June 15, 2014, the ALJ
found that based on Plaintiff's age, education, work
experience and RFC, there were no jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform. (R. 24.) This lead to a finding that Plaintiff
was not disabled prior to June 15, 2014, but became disabled
on that date and has continued to be disabled since that date
under the Act. Plaintiff seeks review only of the portion of
the ALJ's decision that was unfavorable, the question of
disability from the alleged onset date of January 1, 2010
through June 14, 2014. [Doc. No. 17 at 1.]
ALJ LEGAL STANDARD
the Act, a person is disabled if she 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 is
disabled, 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 her former occupation? and (5) Is the claimant unable
to perform any other work? 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
affirmative answer at either step 3 or step 5 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
3, precludes a finding of disability. Id. The
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps 1- 4.
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.
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,
or resolving conflicts in evidence. Skinner, 478
F.3d at 841; see also ...