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Sanford v. Astrue

October 14, 2009

CARLA M. SANFORD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Bernthal U.S. Magistrate Judge

ORDER

In February 2008, Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter "ALJ") John Wood denied Plaintiff Carla Sanford's application for social security disability insurance benefits for a closed period from May 2004 through October 2005. ALJ Wood based his decision on his finding that Plaintiff was able to perform some of her past relevant work.

In August 2008, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Judicial Review (#3) against Defendant Michael Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security, seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision to deny social security benefits. In January 2009, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment or Remand (#10). In May 2009, Defendant filed a Motion for an Order Which Affirms the Commissioner's Decision (#14). After reviewing the administrative record and the parties' memoranda, this Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment or Remand (#10).

I. Background

The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits for a closed period from May 2004 through October 2005 based on a number of complaints, including lupus, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and stress. (R. 110.) The Social Security Administration denied her application initially and on reconsideration. At Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing in February 2008. An attorney represented Plaintiff at the hearing. In February 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff benefits on the basis that she could perform her past relevant work. In April 2008, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. In August 2008, Plaintiff appealed this decision by filing a complaint with this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff seeks an outright reversal. In the alternative, she asks the Court to remand the case for reconsideration.

Plaintiff previously worked for U.S. Can for twenty-five years as a packager and machine operator. At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that she retired from her job in May 2004 because she was becoming increasingly ill and was having difficulty performing her job duties. She stated that she had swelling in her hands and feet, constant headaches, nausea, blurred vision, and a feeling of weakness and lack of energy; she was having problems dropping things; she had back pain, tingling in her feet, intermittent numbness in her left arm, and deep aches and pains in her joints. She stated that, at the time she quit working, she could not afford to purchase her medication. After her husband's medical insurance changed, she was able to purchase medication. With medication, she was able to function better, although she still had problems. In November 2005, Plaintiff began working as a home health aide.

II. Standard of Review

In reviewing an ALJ's decision, this Court does not try the case de novo or replace the ALJ's finding with the Court's own assessment of the evidence. Pugh v. Bowen, 870 F.2d 1271, 1274 (7th Cir. 1989). The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Thus, the question before the Court is not whether a plaintiff is, in fact, disabled, but whether the evidence substantially supports the ALJ's findings. Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 306 (7th Cir. 1995). The Supreme Court has defined substantial evidence as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

In other words, so long as, in light of all the evidence, reasonable minds could differ concerning whether a plaintiff is disabled, the Court must affirm the ALJ's decision denying benefits. Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 977-78 (7th Cir. 1996).

The Court gives considerable deference to the ALJ's credibility finding and will not overturn it unless the plaintiff can show that those findings are patently wrong. Urban v. Sullivan, 799 F. Supp. 908, 911 (C.D. Ill. 1992).

III. Discussion

Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate her mental impairments because (1) the ALJ relied on a nonexamining State agency doctor's report instead of an examining doctor's clinic notes; (2) the ALJ relied in part on the lack of evidence in the record regarding Plaintiff's mental impairments; (3) although the ALJ acknowledged that Plaintiff had mild limitations in some areas, the ALJ did not include those limitations in Plaintiff's RFC; and (4) the ALJ's RFC failed to limit Plaintiff to one- and two-step unskilled tasks.

Defendant responds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff did not have a severe mental impairment. Specifically, Defendant contends that (1) an ALJ is not required to assign greater weight to an examining doctor than to a State agency doctor (see Ketelboeter v. Astrue, 550 F.3d 620, 625 (7th Cir. 2008)); (2) the ALJ did not draw any adverse inferences from Plaintiff's lack of treatment for mental health issues; (3) the ALJ did not err by failing to include Plaintiff's mild limitations in social functioning and maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace in the RFC because any such limitations were speculative: Dr. Williams stated only that ...


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