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Pound v. Astrue

March 2, 2010


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


A. Introduction and Procedural History

This action seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security pursuant to Section 205 of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Christine Pound challenges the denial of her claim for disability and disability insurance benefits.

Pound applied for benefits in November 2004, alleging that she was disabled and that her disability began on July 6, 1998. After the Social Security Administration denied the application, Pound filed a written request for hearing on July 14, 2005. Pound testified at the hearing on June 5, 2007. On August 14, 2007, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Anne Pritchett ruled against Pound, concluding that she was not disabled prior to her date last insured (DLI). Pound timely requested review of the hearing decision. The Appeals Council denied that request for review on August 13, 2008, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Social Security Administration.

Pound exhausted all administrative remedies prior to filing this suit in October 2008.

B. Applicable Legal Standards

Section 205 of the Act provides that the Commissioner's finding "as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). So this Court must affirm the denial of disability benefits as long as the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). "Evidence counts as 'substantial' so long as it is 'sufficient for a reasonable person to accept as adequate to support the decision.'" Ketelboeter v. Astrue, 550 F.3d 620, 624 (7th Cir. 2008), quoting Jens v. Barnhart, 347 F.3d 209, 212 (7th Cir. 2003). Accord Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

Although not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, the ALJ must furnish a logical bridge between the evidence and her conclusions. Getch v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 473, 480 (7th Cir. 2008); Rice v. Barnhart, 384 F.3d 363, 369 (7th Cir. 2004). This Court reviews the record as a whole and may not re-weigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for the ALJ's. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009). See also Ketelboeter, 550 F.3d at 624, citing Schmidt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th Cir. 2000). Thus, even if reasonable minds could differ about whether a claimant is disabled, the Court must affirm the ALJ's decision as long as that decision had adequate support. Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 513 (7th Cir. 2009); Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).

C. Analysis

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must be "disabled," defined by the Social Security Act as unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." Liskowitz v. Astrue, 559 F.3d 736, 739-40 (7th Cir. 2009), quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(E), and § 423(d)(1). Additionally, a claimant must show that the disability arose while she was insured for benefits. Id., citing § 423(a)(1)(A), § 423(c)(1), and Sienkiewicz v. Barnhart, 409 F.3d 798, 802 (7th Cir. 2005)(per curiam).

Social Security regulations prescribe a five-step test to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. Liskowitz, 559 F.3d at 740, citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has described this sequential five-step analysis as follows:

The first step considers whether the applicant is engaging in substantial gainful activity.

The second step evaluates whether an alleged physical or mental impairment is severe, medically determinable, and meets a durational requirement.

The third step compares the impairment to a list of impairments that are considered conclusively disabling. If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, then the applicant is considered disabled; if the impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then the evaluation continues.

The fourth step assesses an applicant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") and ability to engage in past relevant work. If an applicant can engage in past relevant work, he is not disabled.

The fifth step assesses the applicant's RFC, as well as his age, education, and work experience to determine whether the applicant can engage in other work. If the applicant can engage in other work, he is not disabled.

Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 674 (7th Cir. 2008), emphasis added, citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (pertaining to disability insurance benefits) and § 416.920 ...

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