The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morton Denlow, U.S.M.J.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This case comes before the Court for a review of the final decision of
Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying
the Plaintiff, Frederick Schumacher ("Claimant" or "Schumacher"),
disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act
("SSA") 42 U.S.C. § 216 (i) and 223, and supplemental security income
("SSI") under the SSA, 42 U.S.C. § 1602 and 1614(a)(3)(A).
Schumacher claims to have been disabled since August 17, 1997, due
primarily to chronic lower back pain, as well as hypertension, arthritis
and an affective disorder,
Schumacher seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.
The matter comes before this Court on cross-motions for summary
judgement. The issues to be decided are: 1) whether Schumacher is
entitled to benefits for a closed period between August 17, 1997 and
August 17, 1998; 2) whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ")
sufficiently developed the record with regard to the severity of
Schumacher's alleged affective disorder; and 3) whether the ALJ
sufficiently substantiated his findings on Schumacher's credibility. For
the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Claimant's motion for
summary judgment and grants Defendant's motion for summary judgment, and
affirms the decision of the ALJ.
Schumacher filed his application for Title II DIB and Title XVI SSI on
June 26, 1998, alleging a disability as of August 17, 1997, due to back
pain, arthritis, a bone spur and a cyst. (R. 66-71). Schumacher's
application was denied on October 15, 1998, because the Social Security
Administration determined that while Schumacher was unable to perform his
previous job, he was still able to perform medium work and therefore was
not disabled. (R. 29-32). Schumacher filed a request for reconsideration
on October 19, 1998 (R. 33), which was subsequently denied on November
20, 1998, for substantially the same reasons.
(R. 34-36). Thereafter,
Schumacher requested a hearing before an ALJ. (R. 37). On May 7, 1999, a
hearing was held and Schumacher appeared without counsel and testified
before ALJ Michael Pt. McGuire. (R. 186-202).
In his May 17, 1999 decision, ALJ McGuire found the Claimant was not
disabled because Claimant was able to perform medium level work even
though he was unable to perform his past relevant work. (R. 14-21).
Schumacher then filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's finding
with the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. (R. 9). On
July 6, 2001, the Appeals Council denied Schumacher's request for
review, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final determination of the
Commissioner. (R. 6-7). Claimant then filed this action requesting
judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405
Judicial review of a Commissioner's final decision is governed by
42 U.S.C. § 405 (g) which provide 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
Commissioners 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 & Human
Serv., 983 F.2d 815, 816 (7th Cir. 1993). A reviewing court may not
decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its own judgment
for that of the Commissioner. Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th
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.
42 U.S.C. § 405 (g); Scivally v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1070, 1075 (7th
Cir. 1992). Substantial evidence is "such evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). 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.
Zacarias, 502 U.S. 478, 481 n. 1 (1992). The SSA gives a court the power
to enter a judgment "affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause
for a hearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g).
III. ESTABLISHING A DISABILITY
In order to be entitled to DIB under Title II of the SSA the claimant
must establish a "disability" under the Act. Brewer v. Chater,
103 F.3d 1384, 1390 (7th Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by
Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561 (7th Cir. 1999). The same is true to
qualify for SSI under Title XVI of the SSA. Zurawski v, Halter,
245 F.3d 881, 885 (7th Cir. 1997). To establish a "disability" the
claimant must show he is suffering from a medically determinable physical
or mental impairment which can be expected to last for at least 12
months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). Additionally, an individual shall
be considered disabled "only if his physical or mental impairment or
impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his
previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work."
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). This inability to engage in substantial
gainful work must itself last, or be expected to last, for at least
months. Barnhart v. Walton, No. 00-1937, 2002 WL 459209, at *2
(U.S. Mar. 27, 2002).
The Social Security Regulations provide a five-step process to
determine whether a claimant has established a "disability."
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (a). The process is sequential; if the ALJ finds
that the claimant is not disabled at any step in the process, the
analysis ends. Id. In the first step, the ALJ considers whether the
claimant is working and whether such work is "substantial gainful
activity." § 404.1520(b). If the claimant is working, the ALJ will
find he is not disabled irrespective of medical condition, age,
education, and work experience. Id.
If the claimant is not working, the ALJ will address step two: whether
the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that is
"severe." § 404.1520(c). A "severe" impairment is one which
"significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities." Id. Basic work activities include sifting,
standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, reaching,
handling, seeing, hearing, speaking, understanding, carrying out and
remembering simple work instructions, and using judgment. § 404.1520
(b). The ALJ is to consider the combined effect of multiple impairments
"without regard to whether any [single] impairment, if considered
separately, would be of sufficient severity." § 404.1523;
42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(2)(B). If the ALJ finds the claimant does not
have a severe impairment the claimant is found not to be disabled and the
sequential analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (b).
If the ALJ finds that the claimant's impairment is severe, the ALJ
considers step three: whether the sever impairments meets any of the
impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. §
404.1520(c). If the claimant's impairment meets or equals any impairment
listed in the regulations, the ALJ will find the claimant disabled.
If the impairment does not meet any listed impairment, the ALJ moves to
step four, which involves a consideration of the Claimant's "residual
functional capacity" and the "physical and mental demands" of the past
relevant work experience. § 404.1520(e). A claimant's residual
functional capacity ("RFC") is what the person is able to do in spite of
his or her limitations. § 404.1545. If the claimant is still able to
perform work that he had performed in the past, the ALJ will find that the
claimant is not disabled. § 404.1520(e).
If the claimant's impairment is so severe that he is unable to perform
past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner in step five to
show that considering his age, education, past work experience, and RFC,
the claimant is capable of performing other work which exists in the
national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(2)(A); Brewer v. Chater, 103
F.3d at 1390.
IV. THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION SHOULD BE AFFIRMED.
Claimant raises three issues on appeal. First, Claimant argues the ALJ
did not fully consider or develop the record in order to grant DIB for a
closed period from August 17, 1997 to August 17, 1998. Second, Claimant
argues the ALJ failed to fully develop the record with regard to his
anxiety. Third, Claimant contends the ALJ's determination on ...