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Lewis v. Berryhill

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

July 27, 2018

CLARA LEWIS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         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 Clara Lewis's (“Plaintiff”) claims for Disability Income Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI 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, [Doc. No. 19] is granted in part and the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 23] is denied.


         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed her application for DIB in June 2013 and SSI in August 2013, alleging disability beginning in January 2012 due to high blood pressure, arthritis, sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), hyperlipidemia, tendonitis in both heels, and pinched never in her back. (R. 184-92, 217-18.) Her applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (R. 80-117.) Plaintiff presented for a hearing before an ALJ on October 15, 2015, represented by counsel. (R. 48-79.) A vocational expert was present and offered testimony. (Id.) On December 7, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled.[1] (R. 30-47.) The AC denied review on January 1, 2017, 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. 1-7.)

         II. ALJ Decision

         On December 7, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable written determination finding Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 30-47.) At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2012, her alleged onset date, and that she met the insure requirements of the Act through December 31, 2017. (R. 35.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from severe impairments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, essential hypertension, and arthritis of the right elbow. (R. 36.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met 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); (Id.)

         Before step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at a light exertional level, except that she could tolerate frequent exposure to humidity, dust, fumes, odors, gases, and other pulmonary irritants, cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, can frequently climb ramps and stairs, can frequently kneel, crouch, and crawl, can frequently use the dominant right upper extremity, and cannot drive. (R. 37.) At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a consumer complaint clerk. (R. 42.) Because of this determination, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Id.)


         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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