The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge
This matter comes before the Court on the Report and Recommendation ("Report") (Doc. 23) of Magistrate Judge Clifford J. Proud recommending that the Court affirm the Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny plaintiff Kendel Stafford's application for disability insurance benefits and a period of disability. Stafford has objected to the Report (Doc. 27).
I. Report and Recommendation Review Standard
The Court may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations of the magistrate judge in a report and recommendation. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3). The Court must review de novo the portions of the report to which objections are made. Id. "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 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); see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Clifford, 227 F.3d at 869 (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. Id.
At the time of the onset of the alleged disability, Stafford was a 33-year-old man with a high school education who had worked in the past as a deckhand on a barge. On September 3, 2003, while working as a deckhand, Stafford injured his back. He was able to return to work within several months, but stopped working again when he reinjured his back on May 30, 2004. This is the date Stafford claims he became disabled. Stafford did not engage in substantial gainful activity after May 30, 2004. He has applied for disability insurance benefits and a period of disability alleging he is unable to work because of his back problems.
The claim made its way to an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), who conducted the five-step analysis applicable to the determination of whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The ALJ found that Stafford was not employed and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset of his alleged disability and that Stafford's degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and lumbar spondylosis with radiculopathy constituted severe impairments, clearing the first two steps of the five-step inquiry. The ALJ further found that Stafford's condition did not meet or equal any of the impairments listed in the relevant regulations, and moved on to the fourth step -- assessing Stafford's residual functional capacity ("RFC") to determine whether he could perform his past relevant work. He concluded that Stafford was unable to perform his past work as a deckhand, which is classified as heavy or very heavy work.
The dispute in this case arises over whether Stafford satisfied the fifth step of the inquiry -- whether he has the RFC to perform any other work in light of his age, education and experience. The ALJ found that Stafford could perform sedentary work, which was available in significant numbers in the national economy. In coming to this conclusion, the ALJ disregarded the opinion of examining physician Dr. Jack Tippett and Stafford's testimony regarding the extent of his pain. The ALJ also declined to obtain a vocational expert to testify about the existence of sedentary jobs available to Stafford in the national economy. Consequently, the ALJ determined that Stafford was not disabled and denied his application for Social Security benefits.
The Report finds that the ALJ adequately explained why he rejected Dr. Tippett's opinion and properly evaluated Stafford's credibility and that there was no need for a vocational expert. The Report concluded that there was substantial evidence to show Stafford could perform sedentary work that was available in significant numbers in the national economy.
In his objection, Stafford faults the Report in several ways. He argues that the Report erred in finding (1) the ALJ's rejection of Dr. Tippett's medical opinions was proper, (2) the ALJ's credibility determination was proper, (3) the ALJ was not required to obtain a vocational expert and (4) that Stafford was not entitled to a period of disability. The Court will review the objected to portions of the Report de novo.
The Court need not review the detailed, undisputed background as set forth in the ALJ's decision and the Report. It proceeds directly ...