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Donato v. Berryhill

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

June 11, 2018

CANDISS DONATO, 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 Candiss Donato's (“Plaintiff”) claims for Disability Income Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI 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 is granted in part and the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 25] is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI in April 2011, alleging disability beginning in April 2009 due to tremors in her arms, severe neck and shoulder pain, back injury, inability to use her arms, and inability to carry or hold. (R. 380-94, 443.) Her application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (R. 148-83.) Plaintiff appeared for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on August 16, 2012 and a supplemental hearing on March 28, 2013. (R. 81-147.) After the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, Plaintiff requested Appeals Council review. (R. 184-206.) The Appeals Council remanded the case on May 19, 2014. (R. 207-10.) A new hearing was held on January 22, 2015. (R. 32-80.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel. (Id.) Additionally, a medical expert and a vocational expert each offered testimony. (Id.) On February 13, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 12-31.) The Appeals Council (“AC”) denied review on June 20, 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. 1-4.)

         II. ALJ Decision

         On June 15, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable written determination finding Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 12-31.) At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 7, 2009, her alleged onset date and met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2014. (R. 17.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine and lumbar spine, benign essential tremors, congestive heart failure/cardiomyopathy, and a fibromyalgia like disorder. (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. 18.)

         Before step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to lift and/or carry ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally, stand and/or walk for four hours out of an eight-hour workday, and sit for six hours out of an eight-hour workday, subject to several limitations.[2] At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as an inventory control clerk, as she performed the job, not as generally performed in the national economy. (R. 25.) Because of this determination, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Act. (R. 25-26.)

         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 ...


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