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Johnson v. Astrue

July 15, 2010

EMERY W. JOHNSON, 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 June 2007, Administrative Law Judge ("hereinafter ALJ") Joseph Warzycki denied Plaintiff Emery Johnson's application for social security disability insurance benefits.

ALJ Warzycki based his decision on his finding that Plaintiff was engaged in substantial gainful activity (hereinafter "SGA"). He also found that Plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work.

In September 2007, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Judicial Review (#1) against Defendant Michael J. Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security, seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision to deny social security benefits. In May 2009, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment or Remand (#7). In August 2009, Defendant filed a Motion for an Order Which Affirms the Commissioner's Decision (#10). After reviewing the administrative record and the parties' memoranda, this Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment or Remand (#7).

I. Background

A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed an application for social security benefits, alleging disability beginning June 15, 2001, based on a number of complaints, including coronary artery disease, hypertension, and depression. (R. 22.) Plaintiff's date last insured was December 31, 2002. The Social Security Administration denied his application initially and on reconsideration. At Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing in June 2007. An attorney represented Plaintiff at the hearing. Plaintiff and vocational expert (hereinafter "VE") James Lanier testified at the hearing.

In June 2007, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff benefits, finding that he had engaged in SGA after his alleged onset date and that he was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Assuming for the purposes of argument that there was some period at the end of 2002 that Plaintiff did not have SGA, the ALJ continued his analysis and found that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work. As a result, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. In October 2008, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. In December 2008, Plaintiff appealed this decision by filing a complaint with this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff seeks reversal. In the alternative, he asks the Court to remand the case for reconsideration.

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

B. Factual Background

Plaintiff is 5'11" and weighs approximately 225 pounds. He was nearly 60 years old at the time of the hearing. Plaintiff completed nine years of school. He worked in the used car business. In this capacity, Plaintiff performed the roles of salesperson, mechanic, and bookkeeper. Plaintiff suffered an acute inferior wall myocardial infarction in June of 2001. During the insured period, he suffered from coronary artery disease, diabetes, and hypertension. Fatigue, chronic cough, and obesity exacerbated Plaintiff's condition. Plaintiff also claims that he suffers from depression.

The ALJ found that Plaintiff engaged in SGA after his alleged onset date. In 2002, earnings of $780 per month or $9,360 per year were sufficient for work to qualify as SGA. Plaintiff satisfied this requirement when he earned $11,307 in 2002 as a used car salesman. Plaintiff claims that a substantial portion of his earnings came from cars sold in 2001 and therefore should not count towards his 2002 earnings. However, he did not provide evidence that the earnings record was invalid or that he amended his tax return. Thus, the ALJ did not find this argument persuasive. Nevertheless, the ALJ continued the disability analysis, "assuming for the purposes of argument only, that there was some period of time at the end of 2002 that the claimant did not have SGA." (R. 18.)

The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from a severe combination of impairments including coronary heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. The ALJ did not consider Plaintiff's depression severe. At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to do light work, except that he should not have "concentrated exposure to moving machinery or unprotected heights because of the possibility of having a dizzy spell." (R. 21.)

The ALJ and the parties have 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 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.2d 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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