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Krutsinger v. Commissioner of Social Security

April 23, 2010

CHERYL L. KRUTSINGER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, SUED AS MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, DEFENDANT.



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

ORDER

Following remand for reconsideration, in February 2008, Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter "ALJ") Barbara Welsch denied social security benefits to Plaintiff Cheryl Krutsinger. The ALJ based her decision on findings that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and she was capable of performing a significant number of jobs available in the national economy.

In November 2008, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Judicial Review (#3) against Defendant Michael Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, seeking review of the final decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying social security benefits. In May 2009, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (#20). In July 2009, Defendant filed a Motion for an Order Which Affirms the Commissioner's Decision (#23). In August 2009, Plaintiff filed a Short Reply Brief (#25). After reviewing the administrative record and the parties' memoranda, this Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (#20).

I. Background

A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff applied for social security benefits in September 2001, alleging disability beginning March 19, 2001.The Social Security Administration denied her application initially and upon reconsideration. She appealed and ALJ Welsch held a hearing in October 2003 at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert, Dr. Chrisann Schiro-Geist, testified. Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing. In July 2004, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for social security benefits based on findings that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and she was capable of performing a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy. In December 2004, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and Plaintiff subsequently appealed the decision to this Court (05-2019). In February 2006, this Court recommended granting Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (05-2019, Report and Recommendation, #19.) In April 2006, the District Court adopted the Report and Recommendation (05-2019, Order, #20).

In May 2006, the Appeals Council remanded the case for reconsideration consistent with this Court's Report and Recommendation. The ALJ held another hearing in August 2007, at which Plaintiff and a different expert, Ronald Malik, appeared and testified. Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the second hearing. In February 2008, the ALJ again denied Plaintiff's application for social security benefits based on findings that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and she was capable of performing a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy. In September 2008, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and Plaintiff subsequently appealed the decision to this Court.

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

B. Factual Background

The ALJ found that Plaintiff had a combination of impairments secondary to PCB exposure, and pre-existing asthma, allergies/dermatitis, and chronic sinusitis that are considered severe. The ALJ observed that Plaintiff's pre-existing problems with allergies/dermatitis, asthma, and chronic sinusitis did not previously prevent her from working, but noted that Plaintiff claims that her exposure to PCBs has exacerbated these conditions. Regarding the PCB exposure, Plaintiff has been diagnosed with numerous other impairments. The ALJ stated that the objective medical evidence "fails to substantiate with credible evidence either the existence or the alleged severity of many of these impairments." (R. 376.)

Based on these impairments, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light and sedentary work except that she should not perform climbing, work at unprotected heights, or work in an environment that exposes her to a concentrated exposure to respiratory irritants, extreme heat or cold, wetness, humidity, or fumes; she must have access to nearby restroom facilities; and mentally "she is limited to jobs that are unskilled routine and repetitive in nature (due to all cognitive problems including short term memory problems and moderate problems with concentration, persistence and pace)." (R. 382.)

The ALJ and the parties provided detailed descriptions of the medical evidence and the Court will not repeat it here.

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 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 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 also defers to the ALJ's credibility findings. This deferential standard acknowledges that the reviewing court does not have the opportunity to hear and see witnesses, as the ALJ does. Sims v. Barnhart, 442 F.3d 536, 537-38 (7th Cir. 2006). Therefore, courts uphold an ALJ's credibility finding as long as the record affords some support for the finding. See Urban v. Sullivan, 799 F. Supp. 908, 911 (C.D. Ill. 1992) (stating that courts give considerable deference to the ALJ's credibility finding and will not overturn it unless the plaintiff can show that those findings are patently wrong).

III. Discussion

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's February 2008 decision contains the following errors:

(1) The ALJ's RFC finding is not supported by substantial evidence; (2) the ALJ erred by finding Plaintiff not credible; ...


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