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Adams v. Berryhill

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

December 18, 2017

DANIELLE ADAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARY M. ROWLAND, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Danielle Adams filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income 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.

         I. THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

         To recover Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a claimant must establish that he or she is disabled within the meaning of the Act. York v. Massanari, 155 F.Supp.2d 973, 977 (N.D. Ill. 2001).[2] 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.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff protectively applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on October 7, 2013, alleging she became disabled on February 1, 2011. (R. at 212, 216).[3] These claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 158). On April 25, 2016, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Melissa M. Santiago. (Id. at 40-80). The ALJ also heard testimony from Sarah Elizabeth Gibson, a vocational expert (VE). (Id. at 40- 80, 378).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on June 9, 2016. (R. at 17-33). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 1, 2013, the date of her prior determinations.[4] (Id. at 23). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: asthma, obesity, diabetes mellitus, depression with psychotic features, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and a history of learning disorder. (Id. at 23). 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. at 23-24).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[5] 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 she “can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. She should avoid concentrated exposure to dusts, fumes, gases, and poor ventilation. She is limited to only simple, routine instructions and tasks, and is limited to only occasional interaction with the general public, coworkers, and supervisors.” (R at 25). The ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 31). At step five, based on Plaintiff's RFC, her vocational factors, and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the ...


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