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WOOLRIDGE v. BARNHART

March 30, 2004.

JOSEPH WOOLRIDGE, plaintiff;
v.
JO ANNE BARNHART Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID COAR, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Joseph Woolridge is currently 62 years old. He has a history of medical problems with his legs, feet, and hips for which he has claimed disability and sought social security benefits. He has appealed the denial of his request for benefits to this court. Both Woolridge and the Commissioner have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES the Commissioner's motion, GRANTS Willis' motion and REMANDS the case for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Background

  Plaintiff Joseph Woolridge ("plaintiff or "Woolridge") began having problems with his legs when he sustained a fracture to his left knee when he was struck by a car in 1985. Following the accident, Woolridge underwent successful orthopedic surgery to repair his knee. For a number of years, Woolridge exhibited a full recovery and sustained no ill effects from the injury. In 1998, Woolridge slipped on some ice and injured his right hip. He claimed that the injury resulted in a right hip fracture, but the x — rays of Woolridge's hip and back do not show any type of fracture. Woolridge nevertheless complained of significant difficulty ambulating, severe pain Page 2 in his legs, and numbness in his left foot. In addition, he suffers from severe psoriasis, which causes itching lesions over 80 percent of his body.

  Between 1998 and 2001, Woolridge was financially unable to seek regular treatment for his medical complaints. During that time, the record reveals he went to an oupatient clinic at the Evanston Northwestern Healthcare facility at least three times. He visited on August 7, 1998, when he complained of pain in his right hip and leg from his fall which the report dates as March 10, 1998. (R. 146) Woolridge also complained of psoriasis. The report of the August 7, 1998 visit also notes that he was "seen in ER 5/98 for cont. pain" (R, 146), but there are no records from that visit in the Administrative Record. He visited the outpatient department again on October 9, 1998, again complaining that the bottom of his right foot gets numb while walking and of psoriasis. (R. 149) His final documented visit to Evanston Northwestern Healthcare facility during this time period was on July 17, 1999. The documentation of this visit consists of a diagnostic radiology report indicating an old fracture deformity of the tibial plateau and degenerative change about the knee joints. (R. 145)

  In an Internal Medicine Consultative Examination Report for the Bureau of Disability Services dated June 1, 2001, Dr. Michael Raymond, an examining physician, indicated that Woolridge had limited left knee flexion to 110 degrees and had difficulty arising from a chair due to left knee pain. Woolridge's gait was antalgic, favoring the left leg. He could "walk 50 feet without support, though with difficulty and increasing degrees of pain." (R. at 129). Dr. Raymond also noted that Woolridge "exhibit[ed] diminished sensation along the S1 dermatome level" in his left foot. (R. at 130).

  On February 1, 2002, Dr. Lisa Shives noted that Woolridge has a history of chronic left leg pain and weakness dating from the motor vehicle accident. (R. at 150) Dr. Shives noted that Woolridge could not walk or stand for more than fifteen minutes nor could he lift any weight greater than ten pounds.

  Woolridge filed an application for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Page 3 Security Income (SSI) benefits on May 8, 2001. In his initial application, plaintiff noted an onset of disability of March 10, 1998. (Tr. 156) He later alleged onset of disability on January 20, 1998. The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. plaintiff filed a request for a hearing and a hearing was held on July 9, 2002 before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Cynthia Bretthauer. The ALJ issued her decision on August 30, 2002, finding plaintiff was not disabled. plaintiff appealed that decision to this Court.

 
Standard of Reviewing the Commissioner's Final Decision
  Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited. This Court determines whether substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports the decision to deny benefits. See Pope. 998 F.2d at 480; See Wolfe v. Shalala, 997 F.2d 321, 322 (7th Cir. 1993). "Substantial evidence," in this context means evidence that "a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see also Micus v. Bowen, 979 F.2d 602, 604 (7th Cir. 1992). The Court does not "reevaluate the facts, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its own judgment." Luna v. Shalala. 22 F.3d 687, 680 (7th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). The Court will affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is reasonably drawn from the record and is supported by substantial evidence, even if some evidence may also support the claimant's position. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Nevertheless, in making his decision, the ALJ must articulate some minimal basis for the conclusions that he reaches so that the reviewing court may "trace the path" of the ALJ's reasoning. See Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 307-08 (7th Cir. 1995). And, although the ALJ may credit certain evidence and discredit other evidence, he may not simply ignore evidence favorable to the claimant in articulating the basis for his decision. See Groves v. Apfel, 148 F.3d 809, 811 (7th Cir. 1998).

  The Statutory and Regulatory Framework

  To establish disability under the Social Security Act, plaintiffs must satisfy two conditions. First they must have a physical or mental impairment that is expected to be fatal or that has lasted for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Second, they must show that Page 4 the impairment or impairments prevent them from engaging in substantial, gainful, employment. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3). It is the claimants' burden to show a disability. See, e.g., Steward v. Bowen, 858 F.2d 1295, 1297 n.2 (7th Cir. 1988).

  The Social Security regulations require the fact finder to follow a five — step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R.S. 404.1520. The sequential five — step inquiry requires the Commissioner to determine whether a claimant: (1) is not doing substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment that meets or equals one listed by the Commissioner; (4) can perform her past work; and, (5) is capable of performing any work in the national economy. See id

  Review of the Commissioner's Final Decision

  The ALJ found that Woolridge was not disabled at step four of the five — step inquiry because he could perform his past work as a cashier. In reaching that assessment, the ALJ had to establish the plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC). The ALJ found that Woolridge's "medically determinable impairments preclude the following work — related activities:
lifting more than 20 pounds occasionally or 10 pounds frequently; standing and/or walking approximately 2 hours in an eight hour workday; sitting for more than a total of 6 hours in an eight hour workday; repetitive operation of foot controls with the left foot; climbing, balancing stooping, kneeling, and crouching more than occasionally; crawling; and understanding, remembering and/or carrying out more than simple, unskilled jobs. (R. at ...

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