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Holmes v. Berryhill

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

July 19, 2018

ANDRE EDWARD HOLMES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security, 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 Andre Holmes's (“Plaintiff”) claims for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Social Security Income (“SSI”) under Title II and Title XVI, respectively, 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 memorandum, which this Court will construe as a motion for summary judgment, is granted in part and the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI on June 11, 2012 alleging disability beginning June 11, 2012 due to numbness on the left side of his body, pain in his neck and back, a spinal injury, and a bulge in his cervical spine. (R. 277-83; 284-92.) The claim was initially denied on November 29, 2012 and upon reconsideration on April 5, 2013. (R. 132-33, 168-69.) After filing a written request for a hearing, Plaintiff appeared and testified on September 15, 2014 before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) B. Carlton Bailey, Jr. in Chicago, IL. (R. 39- 103.) Plaintiff was represented by his attorney, Kathleen Flynn, via video. (Id.) Medical expert, Dr. Hilda Klein Martin M.D., appeared and testified. (Id.) A vocational expert, Edward Pajella was also present at the hearing but had to leave before giving testimony, so he provided answers to interrogatories provided by the ALJ at a later date. (Id.) At his hearing, Plaintiff amended his onset date to January 1, 2011. (R. 46.)

         II. ALJ Decision

         On April 21, 2015, the ALJ issued a partially favorable written determination finding Plaintiff was not disabled prior to February 1, 2014, but became disabled on that date and continued to be disabled through the date of his decision. (R. 30.) Because Plaintiff's date last insured was June 30, 2013, prior to when the ALJ determined his disability began, the ALJ denied his DIB application. (Id.)

         At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2011, his alleged onset date. (R. 17.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine and depression. (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 prior to February 1, 2014, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at a medium exertional level, subject to several limitations.[2] Importantly, however, the ALJ found that beginning February 1, 2014 Plaintiff retained the RFC to only perform work at a light exertional level.[3]

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had been unable to perform any of his past relevant work since January 1, 2011. (R. 28.) At step five, the ALJ determined that prior to February 1, 2014, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed such as a dishwasher, laundry worker, or packer. (R. 29.) Conversely, the ALJ determined that as of February 1, 2014 there were no jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (R. 30.) Because of this determination, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been disabled prior to February 1, 2014 but that he became disabled on that date and continued to be disabled through the date of his decision. (Id.)

         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 ...


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