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Frantz v. Astrue

July 16, 2010

CAROL S. FRANTZ, 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 January 2008, Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter "ALJ") James Gildea denied Plaintiff Carol Sue Frantz's application for social security disability insurance benefits. The ALJ based his decision on findings that Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work and that, in the alternative, Plaintiff could perform 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 ALJ's decision to deny Plaintiff social security benefits. In May 2009, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment or Remand (#12). In July 2009, Defendant filed a Motion for an Order Which Affirms the Commissioner's Decision (#16). After reviewing the administrative record and the parties' memoranda, this Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment or Remand (#12).

I. Background

A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff applied for social security benefits in September 2004, alleging disability beginning August 1, 2004. The Social Security Administration denied her application initially and upon reconsideration. She appealed and the ALJ held a hearing in November 2007 at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert, Bob Hammond, testified. Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing. In January 2008, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for social security benefits based on findings that Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work, and in the alternative, could perform a significant number of jobs available in the national economy. In July 2008, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff subsequently appealed the decision by filing a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) in November 2008. Plaintiff seeks an outright reversal. In the alternative, she asks the Court to remand the case for reconsideration.

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

B. Factual Background

Plaintiff previously worked as a dishwasher, line assembler, and most recently, as a hostess at Denny's Classic Diner. Plaintiff testified that she stopped working in March 2005 after working two years as a hostess. She stated that she quit because she could not tolerate her ankle, knee, back, and shoulder pain. Plaintiff also sought medical assistance for her depression and anxiety issues, stemming from the death of her husband two years earlier and the responsibility of caring for her twenty-year-old daughter who is mentally handicapped. Plaintiff has taken prescription medication in the past and at the time of hearing was taking Celexa due to shoulder pain, arm pain, and an adjustment disorder. Plaintiff testified that she did not take other prescription medications or undergo x-rays, citing lack of funds as prohibiting her from doing so.

The ALJ stated that Plaintiff has severe impairments including spinal disorder and arthritis of the left shoulder, left knee, and left ankle. He stated that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (hereinafter "RFC") to perform light work except no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and only occasionally climbing ramps and stairs; she is limited to occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling; and she is limited to only occasional reaching with her left arm and she should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards.

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 decision. 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.3d 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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