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HOLDEN v. SHALALA

March 3, 1994

CHARLOTTE HOLDEN, Plaintiff,
v.
DONNA E. SHALALA, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, Defendant.


Plunkett


The opinion of the court was delivered by: PAUL E. PLUNKETT

We review here, under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the final decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (the "Secretary") denying Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") to Plaintiff Charlotte Holden. This case is before us on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment.

 Ms. Holden applied for SSI and DIB on September 23, 1991, alleging that she had been disabled since October 12, 1989. Plaintiff's request was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Following the administrative denials of her claim, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). At the hearing Plaintiff amended the onset date of disability from October 12, 1989 to September 23, 1991. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not under a disability listed in or medically equal to one listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4, and that she had the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work. Accordingly, her claim was denied. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. At that point, the decision became a final decision of the Secretary.

 Having exhausted her administrative remedies, on June 10, 1993, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this court requesting judicial review of the Secretary's decision. Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment requests reversal of the determination or, in the alternative, remand to the Secretary for further findings. Defendant has made a cross motion for summary judgment, requesting that the Secretary's determination be affirmed. For the reasons stated below, we conclude that Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment must be granted and Defendant's motion for summary judgment denied.

 Standard of Review

 The Secretary's final decision must be sustained if it is supported by "substantial evidence" and based on the correct legal standard. 42 U.S.C. 405(g). Thus, we may reverse the decision only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if the Secretary applied an erroneous legal standard. Scivally v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1070, 1075 (7th Cir. 1992) (citing Pugh v. Bowen, 870 F.2d 1271, 1274 (7th Cir. 1989)). "Substantial evidence" is "'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Pitts v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 561, 565 (7th Cir. 1991) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971). It is more than a scintilla. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. at 401.

 An ALJ is required to weigh all the evidence and may not ignore evidence that suggests an opposite conclusion from the one he or she reaches. Whitney v. Schweiker, 695 F.2d 784, 788 (7th Cir. 1982) (citing Garcia v. Califano, 463 F. Supp. 1098, 1105 (N.D.Ill. 1979); Rayborn v. Weinberger, 398 F. Supp. 1303, 1311 (N.D. Ind. 1975)). Furthermore, an ALJ "must minimally articulate his reasons for crediting or rejecting evidence of disability." Scivally, 966 F.2d at 1076.

 Our role is limited to determining whether the Secretary's decision was supported by adequate evidence. We cannot "'decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our own judgment for that of the Secretary.'" Scivally, 966 F.2d at 1075 (quoting Clark v. Sullivan, 891 F.2d 175, 177 (7th Cir. 1989) (quoting Delgado v. Bowen, 782 F.2d 79, 82 (7th Cir. 1986)). Furthermore, "unless the ALJ's assessment of the witnesses is patently wrong in view of the cold record before us, it must stand." Imani v. Heckler, 797 F.2d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 1986); Edwards v. Sullivan, 985 F.2d 334, 338 (7th Cir. 1993) (ALJ's credibility determination stands so long as there is "some support" in the record). We do not decide if a claimant is disabled. Ehrhart v. Secretary of Health and Human Serv., 969 F.2d 534, 538 (7th Cir. 1992) (citing Stuckey v. Sullivan, 881 F.2d 506, 508 (7th Cir. 1989)).

 Background

 Plaintiff was forty-two years old at the time of the hearing. She testified that she was 5'4" tall. She testified further that she weighed 289 pounds at the time of the hearing, and 264 pounds five months earlier.

 I. Past Relevant Work

 Plaintiff was employed in various sedentary, unskilled jobs from April 1977 to October 1989. *fn1" She worked from April 1977 to March 1984 as a packer. She worked as a bench inspector from October 1984 to October 1987, and as a bench checker from October 1987 to June 1989. Her last job, as a stamper, lasted from June to October 1989. Plaintiff received unemployment compensation from August 1990 through June 1991.

 II. Plaintiff's Testimony

 Plaintiff testified at the hearing that her cancer is in remission and that she has not received any treatment for this condition since 1984. She stated that she has swelling of the left side and left arm and that the left side hurts if used constantly for an hour or more. She further testified that she has arthritis in both knees which prevents her from bending and limits her walking to only a little at a time.

 She testified that she has constant, severe pain, which she rates as being eight on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst. Medication does not help the pain, nor does it cause any side effects. Plaintiff admits that in signing the application for unemployment compensation, she represented that she was ready, willing and able to work.

 According to Plaintiff, she can walk two blocks. She can lift five to ten pounds. She can sit for four hours and stand for thirty minutes. She does not engage in any recreational activities. She does not drive. She can feed herself, dress herself, and cook. At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that she does not do any cleaning, although she stated in her application for benefits that she did her own housework. Plaintiff reported difficulty concentrating and sleeping. Plaintiff testified that she has asthma but has never been hospitalized nor required emergency room treatment.

 III. Medical Evidence

 The medical evidence reveals that Plaintiff underwent a modified radical mastectomy of the left breast in April 1984, followed by chemotherapy. The only work-related restriction imposed on Plaintiff was that she not engage in an occupation which puts excessive strain on her left arm.

 The record includes a report from Dr. Mamie Long, a consultative internist who examined Plaintiff in October 1991 at the request of the state agency. The report states that Plaintiff has pain and stiffness in her shoulders that limits the range of motion in her shoulders. The report also indicates that Plaintiff has stiffness and medial edema in her left knee, and a limited range of motion in that joint, and pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion in her lumbosacral spine. Dr. Long indicated in the report that Plaintiff has full strength and normal dexterity in both hands and no loss of strength in the lower extremities. An x-ray of the left shoulder taken shortly thereafter shows slight arthritic sclerosis, as did an x-ray of the left knee. Dr. Long performed pulmonary function studies upon Plaintiff's report of asthma and found them to be normal. At the time of Dr. Long's examination, Plaintiff's height was 5'4" and her weight was 255 pounds.

 Dr. Diaz completed a residual functional ability assessment of Plaintiff in March 1992. In that report, Dr. Diaz stated that Plaintiff could lift ten pounds occasionally and five pounds frequently, limited because of pain in the right elbow; and could stand or walk twenty-five to thirty minutes without interruption or a total of two hours in an eight-hour day, limited because of pain in both knees. Dr. Diaz further stated that Plaintiff's ability to sit was unaffected, that she could occasionally climb, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, or crawl, but that Plaintiff is limited in pushing and pulling because of pain in the right elbow. Dr. Diaz advised against working in temperature extremes because Ms. Holden's pain could be due to arthritis.

 An x-ray report dated April 28, 1992, shows a normal cervical spine, but minimal degenerative changes of the lumbar spine with normal intervertebral disc spaces, and no evidence of fracture or bony destruction. Medical records from Presbyterian St. Lukes Hospital covering the period of April 1984 through June 1987 show weights of 244 ...


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