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Williams v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

January 2, 2018

IVETTE WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARY M. ROWLAND, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Ivette Williams filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her 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 DIB, a claimant must establish that he or she is disabled within the meaning of the Act.[1] 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 applied for DIB on January 18, 2013, alleging she became disabled on April 20, 2012. (R. at 13). These claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 13, 139-40). On August 11, 2015, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Jordan Garelick. (Id. at 13, 33-93). The ALJ also heard testimony from Dennis Gustafson, a vocational expert (VE). (Id.).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on October 23, 2015. (R. at 13- 22). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of April 20, 2012. (Id. at 15). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: history of autoimmune diseases (including hepatitis, lymphocytic thyroiditis, Sjogren's syndrome, and fibromyalgia), primary biliary cirrhosis with III/IV staging, and depression. (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 of the listings enumerated in the regulations. (Id. at 16).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)[2] and determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform restricted light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. ...


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