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Jenkins v. Astrue

November 24, 2010

CHERYL L. JENKINS, 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

On March 26, 2009, this Court remanded this case to the Social Security Agency (hereinafter "SSA") pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Without remanding the case to a hearing office for further proceedings, the Appeals Council reviewed the case based on the existing record. On August 7, 2009, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff Cheryl Jenkins' application for disability insurance benefits (hereinafter "DIB") and supplemental security income (hereinafter "SSI"), for the time period of August 23, 2000, to June 25, 2004.

In October 2009, Plaintiff filed a Complaint (#3) against Defendant Michael Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security, seeking judicial review of the Appeals Council's decision to deny social security benefits. In June 2010, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (#16). In July 2010, Defendant filed a Motion for an Order Which Affirms the Commissioner's Decision (#18). After reviewing the administrative record and the parties' memoranda, this Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (#16).

I. Background

A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI benefits on March 28, 2001, alleging an onset date of August 23, 2000. The SSA denied her application initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff filed new applications for DIB and SSI benefits on May 13, 2002, alleging the same onset date. This application was also denied initially and upon reconsideration. At Plaintiff's request, ALJ Richard Boyle held a hearing on February 5, 2004. Plaintiff was represented by counsel. On August 16, 2007, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff sought judicial review, and on March 26, 2009, this Court remanded the case pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Then, without remanding the case to the hearing office for further proceedings, the Appeals Council reviewed the case based on the existing record and issued an unfavorable decision on August 7, 2009. This is the final decision of the Commissioner, and the opinion that this Court now reviews, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have consented to the exercise of federal jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge.

During this process, Plaintiff filed a third application for benefits. This application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. ALJ Kenneth Stewart held a hearing on June 26, 2008. A medical expert testified that Plaintiff had severe degenerative arthritis in both ankles, and that this in combination with other conditions was equivalent to Listing 1.02. (R. 614.) ALJ Stewart issued a bench decision, formalized on July 3, 2008, finding that Plaintiff was disabled as of the day after ALJ Boyle's decision, June 26, 2004. Therefore, because the Commissioner has determined that Plaintiff became disabled on June 26, 2004, this present appeal deals only with the question of whether there is substantial evidence for the Commissioner's determination that Plaintiff was not disabled between August 23, 2000, and June 25, 2004.

B. Factual Background

Plaintiff suffered an accident at work in May 1998 that fractured both of her ankles. In March 2001, she applied for disability benefits based on "two broken ankles," and explained she experienced pain and swelling in her ankles that caused her to be absent from work frequently, and that she had been terminated from her last job due to poor attendance. (R. 102.) Plaintiff was forty-five years old on her alleged disability onset date, and she has a high school education. She is 5'9", and weighed between 270 and 312 pounds. ALJ Boyle determined that Plaintiff had severe impairments of obesity, hypertension, and residuals of bilateral ankle fractures. The Appeals Council adopted this finding.

ALJ Boyle determined that, despite Plaintiff's impairments, she had the residual functional capacity (hereinafter "RFC") in the relevant time period to perform light work, limited to occasional climbing, stooping, balancing, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. The ALJ determined this prevented Plaintiff from performing any of her past relevant work, including work as a forklift/truck driver, warehouse worker, pumper, labeler, and bagger. However, because the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform a broad range of light work, the ALJ denied benefits on the basis that there was work in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. The Appeals Council adopted this finding.

II. Standard of Review

To be found eligible for social security disability insurance and supplemental income, a claimant must show that he is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or that has lasted, or can be expected to last, for a continuous period of at least twelve months.

42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1).

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 ...


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