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SCHUMACHER v. BARNHART

April 16, 2002

FREDERICK L. SCHUMACHER, PLAINTIFF,
V.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT



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.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

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 (g).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

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 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. 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 twelve 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 ...


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