motion of the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands was
"essentially full." Muscle strength was grossly normal throughout
all muscle groups of the bilateral upper extremity.
Bednar walked with a reciprocal gait and heel and toe walked
with no difficulty. Bednar's range of motion of the lumbosacral
spine decreased at the extremes due to pain. The bilateral
sciatic notch was nontender to palpation. (R. 292). Muscle
testing was full to all muscle groups of the lower extremities.
Dr. Lieber noted no atrophy to either leg. Straight leg raising
on the left was eighty degrees. Both knees were essentially
normal except for positive results in the right knee for
patellofemoral pain, patella pain medial facet, and lateral
facet. The right shoulder showed full range of motion to flexion,
extension, internal/external rotation, abduction, and adduction.
The shoulder area was nontender to palpation but there was
positive apprehension and positive impingement. (R. 293).
As a result of Dr. Lieber's physical exam, he assessed cervical
strain, low back syndrome, right knee pain, right shoulder
tendinitis, and soft tissue damage to the right ankle. (R. 294)
He commented that he found "no objective evidence of any
significant functional impairment of [Bednar's] neck, back,
shoulder, knee, or ankle area that can be related to the injury
sustained during her employment in 1993 or 1995." (R. 294). Dr.
Lieber concluded that "[Bednar] should be able to return to full
employment with no restrictions. [She] requires no further
medical treatment at this time or in the future in association
with the injuries [sustained] during her employment. There is no
evidence of any need for any further chiropractic treatment or
other types of treatment modalities for [Bednar] in association
with her work related injuries." (R. 294).
II. ESTABLISHING A DISABILITY
Disability insurance benefits are available only to claimants
who can establish "disability" under the terms of the Social
Security Act. Brewer v. Chater, 103 F.3d 1384, 1390 (7th Cir.
1997). Establishing a disability under the Act is a two-part
process. First, the claimant must show that she is suffering from
a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can
be expected to result in death or which has lasted or is expected
to last for at least twelve months, and which renders the
claimant unable to engage in any substantial gainful employment.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Second, there must be a factual
determination that the impairment renders the claimant unable to
engage in any substantial gainful employment. Brewer, 103 F.3d
The factual determination of disability follows a five-step
evaluation laid out in the Social Security Regulations: (1) is
the claimant presently employed? (2) is the claimant's impairment
severe? (3) does the impairment meet or equal one of the
impairments specified in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1?
(4) is the claimant unable to perform her past relevant work? and
(5) does the claimant's age, education, and past work experience
enable her to do other work? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see also
Brewer, 103 F.3d at 1391.
An affirmative answer at any step leads to either the next
step, or at the third and fifth step, to a finding that the
claimant is disabled. Garfield v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 605, 607
(7th Cir. 1984). Other than at step three, a negative answer
leads to a determination that claimant is not disabled. Id. The
claimant bears the burden of establishing a disability in steps
one through four of this five-step analysis. Brewer, 103 F.3d
at 1391. If the claimant satisfies his burden of proof on each of
the first four steps in the analysis, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to show that the claimant — in light of her age,
education, job experience, and functional capacity to work — has
the ability to engage in another type of legal employment and
that such employment exists in the economy. Id.
See also 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
III. THE DECISION OF THE ALJ
Applying the five-step evaluation, the ALJ made the following
factual determinations. First, the ALJ found that Bednar was not
engaged in any substantially gainful employment since the alleged
onset date, satisfying the first step. (R. 19). Second, the ALJ
found that Bednar's impairments were severe, satisfying the
second step. (R. 19). Third, the ALJ found that Bednar's
impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of the
impairments specified in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1,
not satisfying the third step. (R. 19). Since failure at the
third step is not fatal to Bednar's claim, the evaluation
continued to the fourth step. Fourth, the ALJ determined that
Bednar was unable to perform any of her past relevant work,
satisfying the fourth step. (R. 20). Finally, the ALJ found that
Bednar had a RFC to perform a limited range of light work. (R.
20). Based on this RFC and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found
that Bednar could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in
the economy. (R. 20). Because the ALJ found that there were a
significant number of jobs existing in the economy that Bednar
could perform, the ALJ ultimately found that Bednar was not
disabled as defined in the Act.
IV. THE STANDARD OF REVIEW
Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is
governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides that "the findings
of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . ." An
ALJ's decision becomes the Commissioner's final decision if the
Appeals Council denies a request for review. Wolfe v. Shalala,
997 F.2d 321, 322 (7th Cir. 1993). Under such circumstances, the
decision reviewed by the district court is the decision of the
ALJ. Eads v. Secretary of the Dept. of Health and Human Serv.,
983 F.2d 815, 816 (7th Cir. 1993).
A reviewing court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the
evidence, or substitute its own judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir.
1995). Judicial review is limited to determining whether the ALJ
applied the correct legal standards in reaching its decision and
whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support
the findings. Scivally v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1070, 1075 (7th
Cir. 1992); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). The ALJ's
decision must be affirmed if the findings and inferences
reasonably drawn from the record are supported by substantial
evidence, even though some evidence may also support the
claimant's argument. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Pope v.
Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 480 (7th Cir. 1993). The court may
reverse the Commissioner's decision only if the evidence
"compels" reversal, not merely because the evidence supports a
contrary decision. INS v. Elias-Zacarias, 502 U.S. 478, 481,
112 S.Ct. 812, 815 n. 1, 117 L.Ed.2d 38 (1992). Finally, a
credibility determination made by the ALJ will not be disturbed
unless it is patently wrong. Brewer, 103 F.3d at 1392.
V. THE ALJ'S DECISION WAS SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE IN
The Court finds there is substantial evidence in the record to
support the ALJ's factual determination of Bednar's claim. Using
the five-step process outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b)-(f), the
ALJ found that at the time of the hearing: (1) Bednar was
unemployed; (2) Bednar's impairments were severe; (3) Bednar's
impairments did not meet or equal any of the listings of
specified impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1; (4)
was unable to perform her past relevant work; and (5) there
exists a significant number of sedentary and light jobs in the
economy which Bednar could perform, as determined by
Medical-Vocational rules 202.21 or 202.22 and supplemented by the
testimony of the VE. (R. 19-20).
Bednar challenges the ALJ's determination on two grounds.
First, Bednar contends the ALJ failed to appropriately consider
all the evidence in the record. The Court disagrees and finds
that the ALJ gave appropriate weight to the evidence and did not
ignore evidence that supports an opposite conclusion. Second,
Bednar argues that the ALJ's determination that Bednar is not
disabled is wrong because the ALJ impermissibly substituted his
own judgment for that of a physician. The Court again disagrees.
A. The ALJ'S RFC Assessment is Supported by Substantial
An ALJ may not select and discuss only that evidence that
favors his ultimate conclusion, but must articulate, at some
minimum level, his analysis of the evidence to allow a reviewing
court to trace the path of his reasoning. Diaz v. Chater,
55 F.3d 300, 307 (7th Cir. 1995); Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329,
333 (7th Cir. 1994). An ALJ's failure to consider an entire line
of evidence falls below the minimum level of articulation
required. Diaz, 55 F.3d at 307; Herron, 19 F.3d at 333.
However, the ALJ's opinion here did not fail in this respect.
A reading of the ALJ's well-reasoned decision provides a strong
indication that the ALJ did consider all the relevant opinions
and conclusions of the various doctors. (R. 13-19). For example,
the ALJ specifically identifies Dr. Allen, Dr. Holt and Dr.
Lieber and carefully summarizes the medical evidence. (R. 13-19).
Finding number 3 accurately summarizes Claimant's medical
impairments. (R. 19). In light of the above, the ALJ satisfied
the articulation standard because the Court can track the ALJ's
reasoning and feels assured that the ALJ considered the important
evidence. Diaz, 55 F.3d at 308.
B. The Medical Evidence in the Record Provides Substantial
Evidence to Support the Finding that Bednar is "Not
The medical evidence in this case provides substantial evidence
to support the ALJ's finding. Bednar's brief argues that the ALJ
impermissibly decided this case by substituting his judgment for
that of a physician. To support this argument, Bednar points to
the ALJ's statement that, despite her testimony about her
symptoms, Bednar "has not generally received the type of medical
treatment one would expect for a totally disabled individually."
(R. 17). However, this statement was given by the ALJ to explain
his observation that "no surgical intervention" is contemplated
for her knee and shoulder conditions, "no specific treatment for
her pelvic injury" was underway, and "speech therapy was never
recommended" for her jaw dysfunction. (R. 17).