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Debra R. W. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 24, 2019

DEBRA R. W.,[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) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed a prior application for disability benefits, which was denied on March 27, 2014. Plaintiff did not file an appeal. Therefore, plaintiff was conclusively not disabled before March 28, 2014 and must prove that she was disabled after that date. Plaintiff reapplied for disability benefits in April 2015 and September 2015, alleging disability as of April 1, 2014.[3] After holding an evidentiary hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied the application on May 10, 2018. (Tr. 17-31). 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 residual functional capacity (RFC) finding.
2. The ALJ did not adhere to SSR 16-3p when he failed properly assess plaintiff's subjective allegations, including her daily activities.

         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. He 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 cervical degenerative disc disease status post fusion, lumbar degenerative disc disease status remote post fusion, bipolar disorder (BD), and borderline personality disorder (BPD).

         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 climbing of ramps and stairs. The ALJ found that plaintiff was also limited to performing simple routine tasks with only occasional decision-making or changes in the work setting. Additionally, plaintiff was limited to no interaction with the public and only brief and superficial interaction with coworkers. 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 Evidentiary Record

         The Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The following summary of the record is directed to the points raised by plaintiff, which ...


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