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Tolley v. Astrue

July 15, 2010

RICHARD E. TOLLEY, 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 February 2008, Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter "ALJ") David Thompson denied Plaintiff Richard Tolley's application for social security benefits. ALJ Thompson based his decision on findings that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and that he was capable of performing a significant number of jobs available in the national economy.

In February 2009, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Judicial Review (#5) against Defendant Michael Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, seeking review of the ALJ's decision to deny social security benefits. In June 2009, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment or Remand (#14). In August 2009, Defendant filed a Motion for an Order Which Affirms the Commissioner's Decision (#17). After reviewing the administrative record and the parties' memoranda, this Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment or Remand (#14).

I. Background

A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff applied for social security benefits in August 2004, alleging disability beginning April 1, 2004. The Social Security Administration denied his application initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff appealed in October 2005, and the ALJ held a hearing in January 2008. Plaintiff, his former sister-in-law, Jessica Finical, and vocational expert (hereinafter "VE")

Bob Hammond, testified at this hearing. Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing. In February 2008, 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 that he was capable of performing a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy. In October 2008, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. In February 2009, Plaintiff appealed this decision by filing a complaint with this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff seeks a reversal of the ALJ's decision. In the alternative, Plaintiff asks the Court to remand the case for reconsideration.

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

B. Factual Background

The ALJ found that Plaintiff had a severe combination of impairments including diabetes mellitus, degenerative disc disease, and depression. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not satisfy the Listings for the following reasons: (1) Plaintiff does not have the required neuropathy, episodes of acidosis, or vision impairment to satisfy Listing 9.08 for diabetes mellitus; (2) Plaintiff's back condition does not include the required nerve root compression, spinal arachnoiditis, or spinal stenosis to satisfy Listing 1.04; and (3) Plaintiff's mental impairment led to a mild restriction in activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in social functioning, mild difficulties in regard to concentration, persistence or pace, and no episodes of decompensation, but did not satisfy the requirements for Listing 12.04.

Based on his impairments, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (hereinafter "RFC") to perform light work, except that he must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards and is limited to occasional contact with the public, co-workers, and supervisors.

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

II. Legal Standard

This Court does not try the case de novo when reviewing an ALJ's decision 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 Plaintiff is disabled, the Court must affirm the ALJ's decision denying benefits. Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 978 (7th Cir. 1996).

The Court also gives deference 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, 912 (C.D. Ill. 1992) (stating that courts give considerable deference to ...


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