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HEJNA v. CHATER

July 25, 1996

MARY A. HEJNA, Plaintiff,
v.
SHIRLEY S. CHATER, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BUCKLO

 Plaintiff, Mary A. Hejna, applied for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits on November 12, 1993. After her claims were initially denied, Ms. Hejna requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. At the hearing, held on November 15, 1994, Ms. Hejna was represented by counsel. ALJ Hughes concluded that Ms. Hejna was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The ALJ found that Ms. Hejna was engaged in substantial gainful activity and that she has the residual functional capacity to perform light work *fn1" except for the capacity to drive or work around unprotected heights or dangerous machinery. Ms. Hejna seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Health and Human Services ("Commissioner"). Both parties have filed motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and Ms. Hejna's motion is denied.

 Standard of Review

 The Social Security Act ("the Act") provides for limited judicial review of final decisions of the Commissioner. The role of this court is only to determine whether the decision of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Wolfe v. Shalala, 997 F.2d 321, 322 (7th Cir. 1993). In determining whether the Secretary's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the district court may not "reevaluate the facts, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] own judgment for that of the [Commissioner]." Luna v. Shalala, 22 F.3d 687, 689 (7th Cir. 1994). 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).

 Sequential Evaluation

 In order to qualify for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits, a claimant must be disabled. Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993). 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. § 432(d)(1)(A). See also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505. To satisfy this definition, an individual must have a severe impairment that makes her unable to perform her previous work or any other substantial gainful activity that exists in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1505.

 The Social Security regulations require the factfinder to follow a five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The Seventh Circuit has summarized the test as follows:

 
The [Commissioner] must determine in sequence: (1) whether the claimant is currently employed; (2) whether she has a severe impairment; (3) whether her impairment meets or equals one listed by the [Commissioner]; (4) whether the claimant can perform her past work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy. Once the claimant has satisfied Steps One and Two, she will automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment but cannot perform her past work, the burden shifts to the [Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some other job.

 Pope, 998 F.2d at 477-78.

 In the present case, ALJ Hughes applied the sequential evaluation and decided the case at step four. The ALJ found that Ms. Brown has worked at substantial activity since October 24, 1994; that the medical evidence establishes that Ms. Hejna "has a seizure disorder and is status-post aneurysm clipping;" that Ms. Hejna does not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in or medically equal to one listed in the applicable regulations; that Ms. Hejna has the residual functional capacity to perform work-related activities "except for work involving lifting more than 20 lbs at a time or 10 lbs frequently, ... driving, ... dangerous machinery[,] or ... unprotected heights;" and that Ms. Hejna is able to perform her past work as a secretary. Consequently, the ALJ found Ms. Brown was "not disabled" within the meaning of the Act and the applicable regulations.

 Whether the ALJ's Decision was Supported by Substantial Evidence

 ALJ Hughes essentially concluded that Ms. Hejna's subjective complaints were inconsistent with the other evidence in the record. The ALJ also determined that the evidence in the record indicated that Ms. Hejna is able to do light work not involving certain hazards. Ms. Hejna argues that the ALJ's findings are not supported by substantial evidence. "Substantial evidence" means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Pope, 998 F.2d at 480 (citation omitted). "'Substantial evidence may be something less than the greater weight or preponderance of the evidence' and a finding may be supported by ...


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