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Brumfield v. Astrue

March 28, 2008

RUSSELL BRUMFIELD, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on the Report and Recommendation (R&R) of Magistrate Judge Proud (Doc. 12). Plaintiff Russell Brumfield (Brumfield) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the social security agency finding that he is not disabled and denying him Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). Judge Proud recommends that the agency's final decision be affirmed. For the following reasons, the Court Accepts the R&R (Doc. 12) and affirms the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.

BACKGROUND

After reviewing a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the Court may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations of the magistrate judge in the report. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). The Court must review de novo the portions of the report to which objections are made. "If no objection or only partial objection is made, the district court judge reviews those unobjected portions for clear error." Johnson v. Zema Systems Corp., 170 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir.1999).

The R&R lays out the relevant facts and procedural posture of the case, as well as the five-step inquiry to be applied by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Neither party has objected to Judge Proud's recitation of this background material. The Court has reviewed the record and finds Judge Proud's recitation comprehensive and accurate, and therefore adopts it in full. The Court declines to recite this background material anew.

Brumfield objects to Judge Proud's conclusion that the ALJ did not err in refusing to give the opinions of Brumfield's treating physician and treating psychiatrist controlling weight. Additionally, Brumfield argues that had his treating psychiatrist's opinion been given the proper weight, he would meet the criteria to be considered per se disabled. Finally, Brumfield objects to Judge Proud's conclusion that the ALJ did not err in discounting Brumfield's own testimony about the severity of his condition.

ANALYSIS

The Court will affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence and contains no error of law. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir.2000). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (internal quotations and citation omitted). When it decides whether substantial evidence supports a decision, the Court does not reweigh the evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir.2003). The Court should give the ALJ's opinion "a commonsensical reading rather than nitpicking at it." Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561, 564 (7th Cir.1999). Finally, the ALJ's reasoning must "build an accurate and logical bridge" between the evidence and her conclusion. Elbert v. Barnhart, 335 F.Supp.2d 892, 896 (E.D. Wis. 2004) (citing Rohan v. Chater, 98 F.3d 966, 971 (7th Cir.1996)). The Court cannot uphold the ALJ's decision if her reasoning in reaching it is faulty. Rohan, 98 F.3d at 971.

I. Dr. Lee's Opinion

Brumfield asserts that the ALJ erred in refusing to give controlling weight to the opinion of his treating psychiatrist, Dr. Lee, that he suffers from depression accompanied by marked limitations in maintaining social functioning and in maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace. If the ALJ had given controlling weight to this opinion, Brumfield would have met the requirements of Listing 12.04*fn1 , making him per se disabled.*fn2

The controversy here centers on whether Brumfield meets the criteria of Listing 12.04 Part B (Part B). Dr. Lee opined that Brumfield has marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning and marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. The state agency psychological reviewers opined that Brumfield has moderate difficulties in those areas. The consulting psychologist, Dr. Deppe, opined that Brumfield's abilities in those areas are intact or mildly limited. The ALJ gave Dr. Lee's opinion no weight and the reviewers's opinions only moderate weight. She found that Brumfield was moderately impaired in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. She found that there was no evidence that Brumfield was impaired in the area of maintaining social functioning. The Court finds that the ALJ's decision to not give Dr. Lee's opinion controlling weight was properly reasoned.

The ALJ's articulated reasons for discounting Dr. Lee's opinion are: (1) Dr. Lee's opinion is based on clinical interviews and is not supported by "objective findings" and (2) Dr. Lee's opinion is inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record including the findings of Dr. Deppe, the findings of the state reviewers, and some of Dr. Lee's own findings.

A. The Treating Physician Rule

A medical opinion on the ultimate issue of whether a claimant meets the definition of "disabled" is not entitled to controlling weight. Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 669 (7th Cir.2004). However, a treating physician's opinion regarding the nature and severity of a medical condition is entitled to controlling weight if (1) it is well supported by medical findings and (2) it is not inconsistent with other substantial ...


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