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RIGGINS v. SHALALA

February 27, 1995

JESSIE RIGGINS, Plaintiff,
v.
DONNA E. SHALALA, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ELAINE E. BUCKLO

 Plaintiff, Jessie Riggins ("Mr. Riggins"), applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") on February 13, 1992. His claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration by State agency personnel. After a hearing on the matter, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Edward B. Pappert found that Mr. Riggins was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Riggins' Request for Review. Consequently, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services ("Secretary"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 332-33 (7th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). On July 20, 1994, Mr. Riggins brought this action to seek judicial review of the final decision of the Secretary pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both parties now move for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth herein, the Secretary's motion is granted, and Mr. Riggins' motion is denied.

 Facts

 At the time of the hearing before the ALJ, Mr. Riggins was fifty-two years old. Tr. 29. *fn1" He has an eighth grade education. Tr. 32. From 1978 to 1991, Mr. Riggins was employed as a construction worker, a job in which he regularly lifted and carried twelve-foot planks of drywall weighing more than one hundred pounds. Tr. 33, 100. On November 15, 1991, Mr. Riggins ceased working as a construction worker because of his problems with the gout. Tr. 33. He has not been employed since that date. Tr. 33.

 At the hearing before the ALJ, Mr. Riggins testified that the gout affects him in both feet, ankles, knees, elbows, and fingers. Tr. 34-35. His condition began approximately fifteen or sixteen years ago, but has recently deteriorated. Tr. 35. Mr. Riggins testified that he has experienced six or seven attacks of the gout since he left work. Tr. 35. He takes Colchicine and Alupirnol on a daily basis for his gout condition. Tr. 38-39. Mr. Riggins also suffers from diabetes, which causes dizziness when he walks long distances or is around heights. Tr. 52-53. At present, his daily activities include watching television, helping clean and dust, cooking, washing the dishes, cutting the lawn, and working in the garden. Tr. 45-46.

 Since November, 1991, Mr. Riggins has been treated by physicians at the Rush Anchor Clinic in Oak Park. The medical records produced at the hearing reflect that Mr. Riggins had an acute attack of gout on November 8, 1991. Tr. 130. On December 5, 1992, he experienced swelling in both toes and had difficulty walking. Tr. 184. The impression was a gout attack in both feet and ankles. Tr. 184. On December 31, 1991, Mr. Riggins again complained of pain in his toes, swelling, and difficulty in walking. Tr. 183. On February 14, 1992, Dr. Mary Schraufnagle ("Dr. Schraufnagle") noted that Mr. Riggins was still having problems with gouty arthritis, with the latest flare occurring in the left knee. Tr. 185. On March 6, 1992, Dr. Schraufnagle noted that Mr. Riggins' gout condition had significantly improved since his prior two gout attacks, that the edema had decreased significantly, and that Mr. Riggins was able to walk without any assistance despite the fact that he experienced some limping. Tr. 130. On March 16, 1992, Dr. Delfin Santos ("Dr. Santos") and Dr. Charlotte Harris ("Dr. Harris") examined Mr. Riggins and found evidence of primary osteoarthritis in his hands, 5-degree flexion contracture of the right elbow, and synovitis in his left ankle. *fn2" Tr. 175. The assessment was polyarticular gout. Tr. 175.

 On March 16, 1992, Dr. William Conroy ("Dr. Conroy") executed a residual physical functional capacity assessment, concluding that Mr. Riggins had no exertional, postural, manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. Tr. 131-38. On April 20, 1992, Drs. Santos and Harris reexamined Mr. Riggins, who complained of mild pain in his right toe. Tr. 125. Drs. Santos and Harris noted that Mr. Riggins showed no evidence of active synovitis, that the swelling had gone, and that the pain had reduced. Tr. 125, 175. On July 22, 1992, Mr. Riggins again complained of pain in his big right toe. Tr. 153. The examining doctor noted that his feet still swelled intermittently. Tr. 153. On August 18, 1992, Mr. Riggins experienced pain in his left ankle, and an examining physician noted synovitis therein. Tr. 127. On September 9, 1992, and again on December 11, 1992, Mr. Riggins complained of blurry vision caused by recently-diagnosed diabetes. Tr. 164, 170. The examining physician suspected that the cause of the blurry vision was poor control of diabetes. Tr. 170-71. On February 17, 1993, Mr. Riggins complained of increased urination, increased thirst, and hand pain due to gout. Tr. 172. On February 19, 1993, Mr. Riggins reported that he felt better, that the urination and thirst improved, and that he still got intermittent gout, although it was "not as bad as before." Tr. 174.

 The ALJ called upon Mr. Myer Klein ("Mr. Klein"), a vocational expert, to testify at the hearing. Mr. Klein described Mr. Riggins' past work as unskilled and heavy. Tr. 56. In response to a hypothetical question posed by the ALJ, Mr. Klein testified that a claimant with Mr. Riggins' qualifications and medical conditions could not perform Mr. Riggins' past relevant work, but could perform other jobs in the medium and light exertional levels. Tr. 58-60. In the light exertional level, such a claimant could perform work as a toy or sporting goods assembler or a hand packer, for which there are 20,000 and 15,000 positions respectively in the six-county metropolitan area. Tr. 60. In the medium exertional range, the claimant could perform work as a cleaner, for which there are approximately 60,000 positions in the local economy. Tr. 60. Mr. Klein also testified to his belief that a claimant who would miss an average of more than one day of work per month as a result of a physical problem might be unable to sustain his or her employment over an extended period of time. Tr. 57, 60-61.

 After consideration of the entire record, ALJ Pappert concluded that Mr. Riggins was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Tr. 18. He acknowledged that the medical evidence established that Mr. Riggins has severe gout, generally well controlled on medication, and diabetes mellitus, controllable on medication without significant end organ damage. Tr. 17. However, he also found that Mr. Riggins' subjective complaints were not credible as to the frequency of his gout attacks, that Mr. Riggins does not have an impairment or combination of impairments as defined by Social Security regulations, that Mr. Riggins has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work, and that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy which Mr. Riggins could perform. Tr. 17-18.

 Discussion

 A. Standard of Review

 The Social Security Act ("the Act") provides for limited judicial review of final decisions of the Secretary. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The role of this Court is limited to determining whether the decision of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence in the record. Wolfe v. Shalala, 997 F.2d 321, 322 (7th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted); Steward v. Bowen, 858 F.2d 1295, 1297 (7th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). *fn3" In making this determination, the district court may not "reevaluate the facts, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] own judgment for that of the Secretary." Luna v. Shalala, 22 F.3d 687, 689 (7th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). Rather, the court must affirm a decision supported by substantial evidence in the absence of an error of law. Herr v. Sullivan, 912 F.2d 178, 180 (7th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted); Edwards v. Sullivan, 985 F.2d 334, 336-37 (7th Cir. 1993).

 B. Sequential Evaluation

 In order to qualify for SSI or DIB benefits, a claimant must be disabled. Pope v. Shalala, supra, 998 F.2d at 477. The Act defines a "disabled" individual as one who is unable "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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905. To satisfy this definition, an individual must have a severe impairment which makes him or ...


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