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Nieves v. Berryhill

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

April 20, 2018

MARIA NIEVES, 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 (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff Maria Nieves's (“Plaintiff”) claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II 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 motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 17] is granted and the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 27] is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on August 27, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2009, due to lower back pain, lower abdominal pain, depression, chest pain, headaches and migraines, leg pain, uterine fibroids, and insomnia. (R. 144-46, 194, 317.) Her application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration on April 11, 2013. (R. 129-178.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) which was held on October 15, 2014. (R. 50-128.) Plaintiff appeared at the hearing represented by an attorney and offered testimony. (Id.) A vocational expert and psychological expert also appeared and offered testimony. (Id.) On October 30, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 16-42.) The Appeals Council (“AC”) denied review on January 14, 2016, 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. 4-10.)

         II. ALJ Decision

         On October 30, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable written determination finding Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 16-42.) At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2009, her alleged onset date. (R. 21.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medical equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926), (R. 22.)

         Before step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at a light exertional level, subject to several limitations.[2] At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work. (R. 33.) At step five, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed such as stock checker, bakery worker, and laundry sorter. (R. 34-35.) Because of this determination, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Act. (R. 35.)

         DISCUSSION

         III. ALJ Standard

         Under the 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 plaintiff is disabled, the ALJ considers the following five questions in order: (1) Is the plaintiff presently unemployed? (2) Does the plaintiff 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 plaintiff unable to perform his former occupation? and (5) Is the plaintiff 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 plaintiff is disabled. Young v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 957 F.2d 386, 389 (7th Cir. 1992). A negative answer to any remaining question precludes a finding of disability. Id. The plaintiff bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Id. Once the plaintiff shows an inability to perform past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to show the plaintiff's ability to engage in other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.

         IV. 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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