United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
November 3, 2004.
WILLIAM GREGORY, Plaintiff,
JO ANNE BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: SAMUEL DER-YEGHIAYAN, District Judge
This matter is before the court on Plaintiff William Gregory's
("Gregory") motion for summary judgment. This matter is also
before the court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. For
the reasons stated below, we grant Defendant's motion for summary
judgment and deny Gregory's motion for summary judgment.
Gregory filed a claim for social security disability benefits
and sought a hearing regarding the denial of the benefits.
Gregory contends that in March of 1999, he became permanently
disabled. Gregory claims that he suffers from congestive heart failure and that his heart condition causes him
to become easily fatigued and unable to work. Gregory also claims
that he has diabetes and suffers from spondylolisthesis in the
lower back with scoliosis. On February 2, 2002, the
administrative law judge ("ALJ") ruled against Gregory. The ALJ
concluded that although Gregory has severe impairments, Gregory
has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform limited
light work. On October 24, 2003, the Appeals Council denied
Gregory's request for a review. Gregory brought the instant
action, seeking a review of the ALJ's decision.
A reviewing court will uphold an ALJ's decision if it is
supported by "substantial evidence" in the record and the ALJ
applied the correct legal standards. Clifford v. Apfel,
227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000). The Seventh Circuit defines
"[s]ubstantial evidence" as what a "reasonable mind might accept
as adequate to support a conclusion." Dixon v. Massanari,
270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). When determining if substantial
evidence exists, the court must review the record as a whole but
is not allowed to substitute its judgment for the ALJ's by
"reconsidering facts, reweighing evidence, resolving conflicts in
evidence, or deciding questions of credibility." Williams v.
Apfel, 179 F.3d 1066, 1071-72 (7th Cir. 1999). Deference should
be given to an ALJ's determinations relating to credibility and
should be reversed only if the determinations are "patently
wrong." Powers v. Apfel, 207 F.3d 431, 435 (7th Cir. 2000) (quoting Herr v. Sullivan,
912 F.2d 178, 181 (7th Cir. 1990)). By contrast, the ALJ's legal
conclusions are reviewed de novo. Nelson v. Bowen, 855 F.2d 503,
506 (7th Cir. 1988); Aidinovski v. Apfel, 27 F.Supp.2d 1097,
1101 (N.D. Ill. 1998). However, an ALJ must
provide some explanation that would allow the parties to understand his
reasoning for his decision. See Clifford, 227 F.3d at 872
(stating that "[w]hile the ALJ is not required to address every
piece of evidence, he must articulate some legitimate reason for
his decision . . . [and] he must build an accurate and logical
bridge from the evidence to his conclusion."). Further, in
reviewing the decision, the court must confine its review to the
explanation and reasoning given by the ALJ. Steele v. Barnhart,
290 F.3d 936, 941 (7th Cir. 2002).
Gregory argues that the ALJ erred in finding that Gregory
retains the RFC to perform light work because the ALJ did not
properly consider the opinion of Gregory's treating physician and
because the ALJ improperly concluded that Gregory's testimony was
The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration employs
a five-step analysis to determine whether a claimant is disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f), 416.920(a)-(f); Rice v. Barnhart,
384 F.3d 363, 365 (7th Cir. 2004). In the first two steps the
ALJ determines "whether a claimant is not presently working, and
second, whether the complained of impairment(s) are of the
required duration and significantly limit the claimant's ability to work." Id.;
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(c), 416.920(a)-(c). In step three the ALJ
compares evidence of impairments with "a list of impairments
presumed severe enough to preclude any gainful work." Rice,
384 F.3d at 365; 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1. If the
claimant's impairment "meets or equals one of the listed
impairments, the claimant qualifies for benefits and no further
inquiry is necessary." Rice, 384 F.3d at 365;
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). However, if the claimant's impairment is
not sufficient under step three, the court proceeds on to steps
four and five. Rice, 384 F.3d at 365. In the fourth step of the
analysis, the court determines whether the "claimant's residual
functional capacity," which is defined as the tasks "a claimant
can still do, despite his or her limitations," Rice,
384 F.3d at 365; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a), "will allow the claimant to
pursue her past work." Rice, 384 F.3d at 365;
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant's impairment "precludes
the performance of past work, the claimant's RFC, age, education,
and work experience are considered to determine if other work
exists that would accommodate the claimant. Rice,
384 F.3d at 365; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).
I. Opinion of Treating Physician
Gregory argues that the ALJ erred in not adopting the opinion
of Dr. Nicholas Bellios ("Bellios"), the treating physician.
Bellios concluded that Gregory was completely disabled. A
treating physician's opinion is generally "give[n] more weight" than non-treating physicians. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(1).
If the treating physician's opinion "is well-supported by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial
evidence in [the] case record" the ALJ should "give it
controlling weight." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2); See also Gudgel
v. Barnhart, 345 F.3d 467, 470 (7th Cir. 2003) (stating that
an ALJ may "reject an examining physician's opinion only for
reasons supported by substantial evidence in the record; a
contradictory opinion of a non-examining physician does not, by
itself, suffice."). This rule only applies "where a treating
physician's opinion was disregarded in favor of the opinion of a
consulting physician," and does not apply when the "examining
physician's opinion was contradicted by several other examining
and non-examining physicians' opinions." Young v. Barnhart,
362 F.3d 995, 1001-02 (7th Cir. 2004). Also, if the treating
physician for some reason, such as an absence from his practice,
is not able to provide a more insightful and detailed opinion
based on his personal examination of the patient, then the
treating physician's opinion is not entitled to more weight.
Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 702-03 (7th Cir. 2004).
In the instant action the ALJ did not neglect to accord the
proper weight to Bellios' opinion. The ALJ specifically noted
that generally the opinions of non-examining physicians do not
"deserve as much weight as those of treating physicians. . . ."
(AR 16). The ALJ continued on to state that such weight is
accorded to the treating physician's opinion as long as it is not
inconsistent with the other evidence. (AR 16). When addressing the opinion of Bellios
the ALJ noted that portions of Bellios' own reports indicated
that Gregory was not completely disabled and unable to perform
light work, and the ALJ found that Bellios' opinion was not
supported by the evidence and that Bellios' opinion conflicted
with other evidence in the administrative record. The ALJ stated
that Bellios' "own treatment notes do not indicate findings that
would support" his ultimate conclusion of complete disability.
(AR 16). The ALJ also pointed out that although Bellios indicates
that Gregory has certain physical restrictions, Gregory himself
admitted to engaging in "numerous activities that are greater
than the doctor's limitations." (AR 16). In addition, the ALJ
noted that although Bellios indicated that Gregory had certain
restrictions, "there were no such restrictive opinions from the
cardiologist." The ALJ also relied upon the opinions of the state
agency physicians that indicated that Bellios could perform light
work. The ALJ noted that the opinions of the state agency
physicians were entitled to considerable weight because they were
consistent with the majority of the other evidence in the record.
(AR 16). W cannot find that the ALJ erred in regards to any of
its findings pertaining to Bellios' opinion and we shall provide
some examples of the basis for our conclusion. For instance, on
May 10, 1999, Bellios received a letter from Dr. Russell C.
Dabrowski ("Dabrowski"), a physician that examined Gregory. (AR
205). In the letter, Dabrowski states that Gregory had undergone
surgery in March of 1999, and that an "[e]xamination shows the
patient to appear well." (AR 205). Dabrowski further explains the improvements in Gregory's condition. Id.
Gregory argues that the ALJ erred in failing to address Dr.
Karen A. Leone's ("Leone") diagnosis of atrial fibrillation.
Although an ALJ cannot "ignore an entire line of evidence that is
contrary to the ruling," an ALJ does not have the burden of
"discuss[ing] every piece of evidence in the record."
Golembiewski v. Barnhart, 322 F.3d 912, 917 (7th Cir.
2003). In the instant action, the ALJ discussed Gregory's heart
condition and the diagnosis was considered by the other state
agency physicians. Gregory points to a report of an examination
made by Dr. Leone on October 28, 2000, in which Leone states that
there were irregularities in Gregory's heart beat. (AR 304-05).
Leone also indicated in the report that Gregory was "in no acute
distress," was "alert" and "responded appropriately to
questions," that Gregory "could dress/undress himself and get
on/off the examination table, unassisted," and that he "ambulated
100' with a normal gait, without assisting device." (AR 304).
Leone also indicated that Gregory's lungs were clear, "[t]here
was a full range of motion of all the joints," and although Leone
commented on minor tenderness in regards to certain joints, he
did not indicate any significant symptoms or limitations. Id.
Leone reported that "[t]here was a full range of motion of the
cervical spine without tenderness," and stated that there was
only "tenderness to palpitation over the lower lumbar vertebrae,
with mild muscle spasm present." Id. The ALJ also specifically
mentioned that Gregory "had an abnormal EKG with abnormal
clinical findings in October 2000." (AR 14). The ALJ also
specifically refers to the report several times in his decision thus providing further indication
that he did not fail to consider Leone's findings. (AR 14, 15).
The ALJ extensively addressed Gregory's heart condition in his
ruling. The ALJ did not ignore an entire line of evidence in
Gregory's case as Gregory alleges, and Gregory's attempt to pick
out one finding in one of many medical reports that was not
specifically referred to by the ALJ is unpersuasive.
II. Credibility of Gregory
Gregory also argues that the ALJ erred in finding that
Gregory's testimony regarding his symptoms was not credible. An
ALJ's credibility determination is entitled to substantial
deference and "there has developed a firm and tenable rule of law
`that an ALJ's credibility determination will not be disturbed
unless it is "patently wrong.'" Carradine v. Barnhart,
360 F.3d 751, 758 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting Cannon v. Apfel,
213 F.3d 970, 977 (7th Cir. 2000)). According to Gregory, the ALJ
improperly relied on testimony by Gregory indicating that he
could perform tasks such as cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping,
changing sheets, and mowing the lawn. Gregory argues that
although he stated that he could perform the tasks, the ALJ
failed to take into consideration Gregory's additional testimony
that he was only able to perform the tasks to a limited extent.
Gregory also criticizes the ALJ for relying on the fact that
Gregory was employed by a landscaping business. Gregory contends
that the ALJ failed to consider the fact that the activity was limited to one or two days a week and was only for three
The ALJ had ample support to conclude that Gregory's testimony
was not credible. For instance, the ALJ considered the fact that
the various medical reports and tests indicated that Gregory's
condition has improved and that his alleged symptoms of fatigue
are not as severe as Gregory claims. The ALJ considered the fact
that the record indicated that the surgeries performed on Gregory
were successful and alleviated some of his problems and that the
record reflected that the surgeries and medication alleviated his
symptoms and Gregory no longer sought frequent medical treatment.
The ALJ considered the above-mentioned daily tasks such as
cooking and cleaning and there is no indication from his decision
that he failed to take into consideration the limited extent that
Gregory engaged in such tasks. The performance of the tasks, even
for a limited period, is evidence of Gregory's ability to live
alone and maintain his household and evidence that he is capable
of performing sedentary work. Likewise, although Gregory's
landscaping work was not full time, it is still evidence that
Gregory's alleged symptoms were not as severe as he claims and
that he is capable of performing sedentary work. The ALJ
specifically acknowledged, in his ruling, that the landscaping
work was one or two days a week for one or two hours a day. (AR
15). Gregory also criticizes the ALJ for stating that Gregory
"frequently" drove to his sister's house in Kenosha. Gregory
claims that he only drove to his sister's house a few times. Such
a distinction is insufficient to warrant a finding in favor of
Gregory in regards to the instant motion.
Based on the foregoing analysis, we grant Defendant's motion
for summary judgment and deny Gregory's motion for summary
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