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Elmore v. Astrue

December 15, 2009


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


In April 2008, Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter "ALJ") David Thompson denied Plaintiff Crystal Elmore's application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. ALJ Thompson based his decision on a finding that Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work.

In September 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 April 2009, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment or Remand (#13). In June 2009, Defendant filed a Motion for an Order Which Affirms the Commissioner's Decision (#17). In August 2009, Plaintiff filed a Reply to Defendant's Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Affirmance (#19). After reviewing the administrative record and the parties' memoranda, this Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment or Remand (#13).

I. Background

A. Procedural Background

In November 2004, Plaintiff filed applications for social security benefits alleging disability beginning September 2004. She subsequently amended her alleged onset date to August 1, 2007. The Social Security Administration denied her application initially and on reconsideration. At Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing in March 2008. An attorney represented Plaintiff at the hearing. Plaintiff and a vocational expert, Ronald Malik, testified at the hearing. In April 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff benefits on the basis that she could perform her past relevant work; therefore she was not disabled. In July 2008, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. In September 2008, Plaintiff appealed this decision by filing a complaint in federal court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff seeks a reversal of the ALJ's decision or, in the alternative, remand for reconsideration.

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

B. Factual Background

The ALJ noted that Plaintiff has the "severe combination of impairments" of anxiety and learning disorder. (R. 20.) He observed that Plaintiff had pursued relatively little treatment for her impairments since August 1, 2007, the amended onset date. Dr. Mildred Nelson examined Plaintiff in March 2007 and her review of Plaintiff's systems, based on her evaluation and Plaintiff's report, revealed no abnormal findings. In particular, Plaintiff denied nervousness, depression, anxiety, new stressors, or difficulty concentrating. (R. 288-89, Dr. Nelson's clinic note.) She was taking antidepressant medication which the ALJ observed was apparently working well.

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (hereinafter "RFC") to perform work at all exertional levels except that she is limited to performing no more than moderately complex or detailed tasks. (R. 23.) The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff was receiving unemployment benefits (in November 2007) and this shows that she has acknowledged that she was capable of working. (R. 24.)

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. ...

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