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Patrick J. Turner v. Michael J. Astrue

August 4, 2010


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 07‐C‐1520 Michael T. Mason, Magistrate Judge.

Chicago, Illinois 60604

Argued April 13, 2010

Before ANN CLAIRE WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge DIANE S. SYKES, Circuit Judge JOHN DANIEL TINDER, Circuit Judge


Patrick Turner appeals a district court decision affirming the denial of his claim for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. We conclude that substantial evidence supports the administrative law judge's determination that Turner was not entitled to disability insurance benefits and therefore affirm.

I. Background

Turner is 51 years old and lives in Streator, Illinois. He is married and has five children. He left high school at the start of his senior year, but earned his GED shortly thereafter. For the bulk of his professional life, he worked as a unionized painter-mostly at nuclear power plants. In 1998 while working at the LaSalle nuclear plant, Turner injured his lower back transporting two 100‐pound buckets of paint. As a result of this accident, Turner's back popped and pain radiated down his left leg. Turner was able to perform light‐duty work for the following year until his neurologist advised him to stop working because he was on his feet too long. Turner ultimately received a workers' compensation settlement in the amount of $175,000.

Turner filed his application for disability insurance benefits on December 5, 2002. His claim was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. Turner then requested an administrative hearing, which was held on December 1, 2005, before an Administrative Law ("ALJ"). The ALJ denied Turner's claim.

A. The ALJ's Ruling

The Social Security Act defines a disabled individual as one who is unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Under the regulations promulgated by the Commissioner of Social Security for evaluating disability claims, an individual is not considered disabled if his residual functioning capacity-along with the individual's age, education, and work experience-allows him to perform a significant number of jobs. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). Based on these statutory and regulatory standards, the ALJ denied Turner's claim for disability benefits.

The ALJ was confronted with conflicting medical evidence concerning the precise nature of Turner's physical condition. The ALJ received medical reports from several doctors-some based on personal examinations of Turner, others based solely on a review of Turner's medical files-including three who prepared reports at the request of Disability Determination Services ("DDS"). The ALJ also received a residual functional‐capacity report ("RFC") from a nurse‐practitioner and heard testimony from Turner himself. Some of the medical evidence indicated that Turner could not perform even sedentary work due to persistent pain in his back, but the prevailing view was that Turner's physical limitations were less severe than he claimed.

After reviewing and weighing the available evidence, the ALJ ultimately found that Turner "has the residual functional capacity to perform the physical exertional and non-exertional requirements of work except that he is limited to lifting no more than ten pounds at a time. He requires the option to alternate between sitting and standing." While acknowledging that Turner could no longer perform his past work as a painter, the ALJ concluded that Turner's capacity for sedentary work, in addition to his age, education, and work experience, directed a finding of "not disabled" given the applicable regulations and the number of jobs available to a person in Turner's condition.

B. Subsequent Procedural History

Turner administratively appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council. As part of this appeal, Turner submitted additional evidence for review. The Appeals Council incorporated these additional documents into the administrative record but agreed with the ALJ's decision. Turner then sought judicial review. The parties agreed to conduct the proceedings before a ...

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