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Rivera v. Saul

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

November 21, 2019

CAMERIN R., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [2] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. MARIA VALDEZ, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This action was brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Camerin R.'s claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). 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 request to reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand for further proceedings is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed a claim for DIB, alleging disability since December 7, 2013 due to rheumatoid arthritis and mental impairments. The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on July 14, 2016. Plaintiff personally appeared and testified at the hearing and was represented by counsel. Vocational expert (“VE”) Linda M. Gels also testified.

         On February 15, 2017, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits, finding her not disabled under the Social Security Act. The Social Security Administration Appeals Council then denied Plaintiff's request for review, 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).

         II. ALJ DECISION

         The ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of December 7, 2013. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had severe impairments of rheumatoid arthritis and obesity and non-severe impairments of hypothyroidism, depression, and anxiety. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's claim of lupus, being supported by no medical signs or findings in the record, was not medically determinable during the relevant period. The ALJ concluded at step three that her impairments, alone or in combination, do not meet or medically equal a Listing. Before step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform medium work except occasional climbing ladders and no climbing ropes or scaffolds.

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a retail store manager and area supervisor, leading to a finding that she is not disabled under the Social Security Act.

         DISCUSSION

         I. ALJ LEGAL STANDARD

         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). 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 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. Young v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 957 F.2d 386, 389 (7th Cir. 1992). A negative answer at any step, other than at step 3, precludes a finding of disability. Id. The Plaintiff bears the burden of proof at steps 1-4. 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.

         II. 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 Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008) (holding that the ALJ's decision must be affirmed even if “‘reasonable minds could differ'” as long as “the decision is adequately supported”) (citation omitted).

         The ALJ is not required to address “every piece of evidence or testimony in the record, [but] the ALJ's analysis must provide some glimpse into the reasoning behind her decision to deny benefits.” Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001). In cases where the ALJ denies benefits to a Plaintiff, “he must build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion.” Clifford, 227 F.3d at 872. The ALJ must at least minimally articulate the “analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review.” Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005); Murphy v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 630, 634 (7th Cir. 2007) (“An ALJ has a duty to fully ...


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