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M. P. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 13, 2019

KATHRYN M. P.,[1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER of SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DONALD G. WILKERSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff, represented by counsel, seeks judicial review of the final agency decision denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for benefits in November 2014, alleging disability beginning on October 22, 2014. (Tr. 67). After holding an evidentiary hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied the application for benefits in a decision dated February 14, 2018. (Tr. 13-28). The Appeals Council denied review, and the decision of the ALJ became the final agency decision. (Tr. 1). Administrative remedies have been exhausted and a timely complaint was filed in this Court.

         Issues Raised by Plaintiff

         Plaintiff raises the following points:

         1. The ALJ erred by failing to account for moderate deficits of concentration, persistence, or pace in the RFC finding.

         2. The ALJ did not adhere to SSR 96-8p when she ignored evidence in her residual functional capacity (RFC) determination for claimant.

         3. The ALJ erred in failing to identify the evidentiary basis of her assessment of plaintiff's RFC.

         Applicable Legal Standards

Under the Social Security Act, a person is disabled if she 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). 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 her 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 3 or step 5 leads to a finding that the plaintiff is disabled. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001). A negative answer at any step, other than at step 3, precludes a finding of disability. Ibid. The plaintiff bears the burden of proof at steps 1-4. Ibid. 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. Ibid.

         The Decision of the ALJ

         The ALJ followed the five-step analytical framework described above. She determined that plaintiff had not worked at the level of substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. The ALJ found that plaintiff had severe impairments of somatic symptoms disorder, depression with anxiety, bilateral osteoarthritis of the hands, seronegative rheumatoid arthritis (RA), mild lumbar facet osteoarthritis, morbid obesity, diabetes mellitus, neuropathy, and mild bilateral hip osteoarthritis.[3]

         The ALJ found that plaintiff had the RFC to perform work at the light exertional level, limited to no climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; occasional stooping, crouching, crawling, and kneeling; and frequent handling and fingering. She was also limited to performing simple routine tasks but not in a fast paced, production environment, such as an assembly line. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was unable to do her past relevant work, while also making an alternative finding that she was able to do other jobs at the light exertional level which exist in significant numbers in the national economy.

         The ...


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