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Cannata v. Berryhill

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

July 25, 2018

ROSE M. CANNATA, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         In the instant matter, Plaintiff Rose Cannata (“Plaintiff”) appeals the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. [Dkt. 1.] The Parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons below, the Court remands this matter for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order. Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security [dkt. 17], construed as a motion for summary judgment, is granted; the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [dkt. 25] is denied.

         I. Background[1]

         On September 28, 2013, Plaintiff filed both an application for disability benefits and an application for supplemental security benefits. [Administrative Record (“R”) 197-204.] Plaintiff alleged an onset date of disability as of January 1, 2007. [R 197, 199.] Plaintiff's date last insured (“DLI”) is September 30, 2011. [R 18.] Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration; Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, held on February 29, 2016 before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Kevin Plunkett. [R 34-72.] Plaintiff was represented by counsel, and a Vocational Expert testified. Id. At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff amended her disability onset date to September 29, 2011. [R 18, 71.]

         Plaintiff was born in 1960. [R 197.] For purposes of this opinion, Plaintiff's significant medical history includes uncontrolled Type II diabetes mellitus. [R 413, 480.] Plaintiff was diagnosed with diabetes in approximately 1998. [R 480.] On at least one occasion, Plaintiff presented to a routine care clinic who sent her to the emergency department as she had an alarmingly high blood sugar level over 500.[2] [R 410.] On that occasion, Plaintiff reported to emergency department personnel that she had stopped taking her insulin because she could not afford the medication. Id. Plaintiff's diabetes presents with neuropathy (nerve pain), and Plaintiff testified that the neuropathy in her feet, knees, back, and arms makes it hard to stand or sit for extended periods of time. [R 20, 39-40.]

         Additionally, Plaintiff is obese and has degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis of the left shoulder and bilateral knees, anxiety, and depression. [R 20.] When discussing her medical history at the administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified that on three separate occasions she was unable to obtain certain medical treatments because a medical provider would not accept her insurance. [R 47-49.] Finally, Plaintiff has asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), and she is an every day smoker with a pack-a-day habit. [R 20, 380, 388, 480.]

         On April 13, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff disability benefits. [R 18-27.] At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of September 29, 2011, through her DLI. [R 20.] At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease; obesity; osteoarthritis of the left shoulder and bilateral knees; diabetes with neuropathy; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); anxiety and depression. Id. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's hypertension and hepatitis C were nonsevere impairments. [R 21.] At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App'x 1. [R 21-22.]

         Before step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[3] to

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant can occasionally overhead reach and frequently reach in all other directions with the left upper extremity; frequently climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; the claimant can perform simple, routine tasks and use judgment to make simple work-related decisions; frequently respond appropriately to supervisors, coworkers and the public and frequently deal with changes in the work setting.

[R 22.] At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff able to perform her past relevant work as a deli slicer. [R 26.] Therefore, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled under the Act. [R 27.]

         Plaintiff appealed, and on April 17, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's appeal, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. [R 1-6.] Plaintiff filed the instant action on June 19, 2017. [Dkt. 1.]

         II. Social Security Regulations and Standard of Review

         The Social Security Act requires all applicants to prove they are disabled as of their date last insured to be eligible for disability insurance benefits. ALJs are required to follow a sequential five-step test to assess whether a claimant is legally disabled. The ALJ must determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; and (3) whether the severe impairment meets or equals one considered conclusively disabling such that the claimant is impeded from performing basic work-related activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). If the impairment(s) does meet or equal this standard, the inquiry is over and the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). If not, the evaluation continues and the ALJ must determine (4) whether the claimant is capable of performing his past relevant work. Cannon v. Harris, 651 F.2d 513, 517 (7th Cir. 1981). If not, the ALJ must (5) consider the claimant's age, education, and prior work experience and evaluate whether she is able to engage in another type of work existing in a significant number of jobs in the national economy. Id. At the fourth and fifth steps of the inquiry, the ALJ is required to evaluate the claimant's RFC in calculating which work-related activities she is capable of performing given his limitations. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004). In the final step, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show there are significant jobs available that the claimant is able to perform. Smith v. Schweiker, 735 F.2d 267, 270 (7th Cir. 1984).

         In disability insurance benefits cases, a court's scope of review is limited to deciding whether the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is based upon substantial evidence and the proper legal criteria. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 699 (7th Cir. 2004). The Court cannot let the Commissioner's decision stand if the decision lacks sufficient evidentiary support, an adequate discussion of the issues, or is ...

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