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ROBINSON v. BARNHART

December 9, 2002

GEORGIA ROBINSON, PLAINTIFF,
V.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morton Denlow, United States Magistrate Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This case comes before the Court for a review of the final decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying Plaintiff Georgia Robinson ("Claimant" or "Robinson") supplementary security income benefits ("SSI"). Claimant seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. The matter comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. The principle issue raised by Claimant is whether the Administrative Law Judge made a sufficient credibility determination in accordance with Social Security Ruling 96-7p and Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887-88 (7th Cir. 2001). For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Claimant filed her application for SSI benefits on February 17, 1998. R. 118-21. Her application was denied on May 7, 1998, and on May 13, 1998 she filed a timely request for reconsideration. R. 72-77. On June 24, 1998, her claim was denied at the reconsideration level. R. 78-80.

On July 14, 1998, Claimant filed a timely request for hearing. R. 81-83. A hearing was held before ALJ Richard J. Boyle on June 6, 1999 at which Claimant, her aunt, Beula Smith, Medical Expert Dr. William Buckingham and Vocational Expert William Schweitz testified. R. 26-69. On August 27, 1999, the ALJ issued his decision finding Claimant not disabled because she could perform a significant number of light jobs. R. 11-19. The Claimant seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g). The Court conducted oral argument on the cross-motions for summary judgment on December 3, 2002.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Judicial review of a 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 & 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 his decision and whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support his findings. Schoenfeld v. Apfel, 237 F.3d 788, 792 (7th Cir. 2001); 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 (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 Act 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 rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g).

IV. THE EVIDENCE

A. CLAIMANT'S HEARING TESTIMONY AND REPORTS

Claimant was fifty years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. R. 31. She has a high school diploma and past work experience as a packer. R 31-33. She last worked in late 1985 when she was laid off. R. 34. She claims a disability onset date of August, 1989, four years after she was laid off. R. 131.

She testified she cannot work due to shortness of breath and soreness throughout her body. R. 35-38. She was admitted to a hospital in January 1998 or 1999 for chest pain but was discharged the next day after the admitting physician found her "heart was all right." R. 43-44. She explained that due to shortness of breath she could walk only one block before resting. R. 44-46. She had difficulty bending and squatting, but not sitting. R. 45. She dropped things, experienced a numbness in her hands and had problems sleeping. R. 45, 48-49, 170. She cooked and used public transportation. R. 46. She shopped with the help of her son, attended church services and her son's school activities. R. 47, 144. She typically stayed home. R. 50.

B. TESTIMONY OF BEULA SMITH

Claimant's aunt, Beula Smith, testified she saw Claimant each week at church. R. 53. She observed swelling in Claimant's hands, ankles and elbows, a shortness of breath and ...


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