United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. Cox, United States Magistrate Judge
Marsha B. (“Plaintiff”) appeals the
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her
disability benefits. Plaintiff has filed a Brief in Support
of Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security, which the Court construes as a motion for summary
judgment (Dkt. 14); the Commissioner has filed a cross-motion
for summary judgment (Dkt. 25). As detailed below, the Court
grants Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 14),
denies the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment
(Dkt. 25), and remands this matter for further proceedings.
applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act on December 11, 2014, alleging disability
beginning on May 1, 2014. (R. 13.) After her applications
were denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff
requested an administrative hearing. Id. On May 5,
2017, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a
hearing before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Laurie Wardell. (R. 31-68.) A vocational expert
(“VE”) also testified. Id. On November
1, 2017, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(R. 13-25.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's appeal
on September 27, 2018. (R. 1-6.) Thus, the Decision of the
Appeals Council is the final decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff filed an action in this court on November 26, 2018,
seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. (Dkt. 1.)
The ALJ's Decision and Relevant Hearing
noted above, at a VE testified at Plaintiff's hearing
before the ALJ. The ALJ proffered the following hypothetical
individual to the VE during his testimony:
Please assume for the first hypothetical an individual of the
same age, education, and work history as the Claimant; able
to do medium work; frequent ramps and stairs; no ladders,
ropes and scaffolds; occasional balance, stoop kneel, crouch
and crawl; occasional hazards, but no heights; occasional
fumes, dust, odors and pulmonary irritants; simple routine
repetitive tasks; simple work related decisions; occasional
changes in the workplace; and occasional interaction with
supervisors, coworkers, and the public.
(R. 62-63.) The VE opined that there would be several jobs
available to such a hypothetical individual, including
laundry laborer, dayworker, and machine packer. (R. 63.) When
the ALJ questioned how a limitation that there be “no
production rate pace” would affect the available jobs
to a hypothetical claimant, the VE testified that the machine
packer position would be eliminated for that individual. (R.
November 1, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Plaintiff disability benefits. (R. 13-25.) At Step One, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since her alleged onset date of May 1, 2014.
(R. 16.) At Step Two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
severe impairments of asthma, arrhythmias, panic disorder,
and cervical spine degenerative disc disease. (R. 16.)
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. 16.) In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ considered
Plaintiff's mental impairment under Listing 12.04,
including whether the “paragraph B” criteria were
met. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had a moderate limitation
in understanding, remembering, or applying information; a
moderate limitation in interacting with others; a moderate
limitation in concentration, persistence, and pace; and
moderate limitation in adapting or managing oneself. (R.
Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium
work with the following limitations: frequent climbing of
ramps and stairs, but never climbing ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, and crawling; no work with heights; occasional
hazards; occasional exposure to fumes and odors; limited to
simple, routine, repetitive tasks with simple work decisions
and occasional changes; occasional contact with supervisors,
coworkers, and the public. (R. 18.) Notably, these were the
same limitations as the hypothetical individual considered by
the VE at the hearing. At Step Four, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was incapable of performing her past relevant as a
nurse assistant, companion, or psychiatric aide. (R. 24.) At
Step Five, the ALJ found that there was work existing in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform, considering her age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity. Id.
Because of these determinations, the ALJ found Plaintiff not
disabled under the Act. Id.
Social Security Regulations and Standard of Review
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 ...