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Anderson v. Berryhill

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

December 19, 2017

ROBERT G. ANDERSON, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARY M. ROWLAND, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Robert G. Anderson, Jr. filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II 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), a claimant must establish that he or she is disabled within the meaning of the Act.[2] York v. Massanari, 155 F.Supp.2d 973, 977 (N.D. Ill. 2001). 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 DIB on September 4, 2012, alleging he became disabled on July 5, 2012. (R. at 205). This claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 102-105, 108-110, 112). On November 3, 3014, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 37-74). The ALJ also heard testimony from Robert Taub, M.D., a medical expert (ME), and James Breen, a vocational expert (VE). (Id. at 44-47, 67-72).

         The ALJ issued a partially favorable decision on February 5, 2015 finding that Plaintiff became disabled on September 3, 2014. (R. at 17-36, 21). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff met the insured status requirement through December 31, 2018 and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of June 28, 2012.[3] (Id. at 23). At step two, the ALJ found that since the alleged onset date of June 28, 2012, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: hypertensive retinopathy; branch vein occlusion; status post-cataract excision and lens replacement, left eye; and chronic pulmonary obstructive disease. (Id.). 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 listings enumerated in the regulations. (Id. at 24).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[4] and determined that prior to September 3, 2014 Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a full ...


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