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James B. Peterson v. Michael J. Astrue

December 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. P. Michael Mahoney U.S. Magistrate Judge


I. Introduction

James B. Peterson ("Claimant") seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's decision to deny his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), under Title II of the Social Security Act, and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits, under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This matter is before the Magistrate Judge pursuant to the consent of both parties, filed on July 17, 2009. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed. R. Civ. P. 73.

II. Administrative Proceedings

On July 28, 2006, Claimant applied for DIB and SSI, alleging that he was disabled as of December 31, 2000*fn1 due to mild mental retardation and a back injury. (Tr. 33, 53.) This initial DIB and SSI application was denied on October 17, 2006. (Tr. 49.) Claimant's application was denied a second time, upon reconsideration, on March 1, 2007. (Tr. 59.) Claimant then filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on March 13, 2007. (Tr. 66-67.) The hearing took place before ALJ Cynthia M. Bretthauer, via video teleconference between Evanston, Illinois and Rockford, Illinois, on August 7, 2008. (Tr. 322.) Claimant appeared and testified in Rockford with his attorney present. (Tr.322, 324-325.) Vocational expert ("VE"), William Newman, also testified before the ALJ. (Tr. 322, 324.)

On September 18, 2008, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled, and therefore, denied his claims for DIB and SSI. (Tr.36-48.) In response, Claimant filed a Request for Review with the Social Security Administration's Office of Hearing and Appeals on September 25, 2008. (Tr. 5.) On February 20, 2009, the Appeals Council denied Claimant's Request for Review. (Tr 5-7.) As a result of this denial, the ALJ's decision is considered the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 404.981, 416.1455, 416.1481. Claimant now files a complaint in this Federal District Court, seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

III. Background

Claimant was born on December 31, 1965, and was forty-three years old when he appeared at the ALJ hearing. (Tr. 33, 322.) Claimant was approximately six feet and three inches tall, and weighed approximately 288 pounds at the time of his initial application. (Tr. 118, 262.) As of the hearing, Claimant lived with his ex-wife in an apartment in Rockford, Illinois. (Tr. 327-328.) Claimant earned his high school degree while in special education classes, but took "regular classes" as well. (Tr. 329.) He speaks English fluently, and testified that he is able to read and write. (Tr. 190, 335.)

According to Claimant's testimony, he has an Illinois driver's license, although it was suspended at the time of the hearing, due to a citation for driving without valid vehicle registration. (Tr. 328-329.) However, he otherwise frequently drives himself to work. (Tr. 329.) The ALJ joked that Claimant "should have a chauffer['s] license," after he described how he was often designated as "the driver," and frequently drove his ex-wife and mother to their regular doctors' appointments. (Tr. 335.) Claimant maintained that he and his ex-wife share cooking and cleaning duties. (Tr. 355.) Washing the dishes and doing laundry are also commonly shared household chores. (Tr. 335.) Claimant testified that he does the grocery shopping, receives food stamps, and will go out to eat only if he has the money to do so. (Tr. 336.) He also takes part in the Rockford Special Olympics, and currently competes in softball, bowling, volleyball, and basketball. (Tr. 336.) In addition, Claimant helps his mother by mowing her lawn "off and on." (Tr. 335.) During his testimony, Claimant reported no difficulty in performing any of these tasks.

Over the past twenty years, Claimant has held several occupations. (Tr. 192.) From 1991 to 1996, he was employed as a "paint sprayer's assistant" at Expressions in Wood. (Tr. 192, 333.) In 1996, he worked as a "laborer," or car porter: performing odd jobs such as "doing the carwash, [and] running parts" for Burton Motor Sales. (Tr. 192, 334.) Throughout the years, Claimant worked "off and on" as a janitor for Anderson Automotive (1996) and the County of Winnebago (1998). (Tr. 192.) From 1997 to 2008, Claimant delivered newspapers for the Rockford Register Star. Claimant also worked as a "materials handler" for Illinois Growth Enterprises in 2005. (Tr. 192, 331.) At the time of the hearing, Claimant was employed as a janitor for Tri-County Cleaning. (Tr. 329-330.) Claimant expressed no difficulty in performing his duties, and communicated that had he been offered full-time employment, he would be able to work full-time. (Tr. 331, 334.) In requesting judicial review, Claimant maintains that he is unable to work due to mild mental retardation, obesity, and back pain. (Tr. 53.)

IV. Medical History

1. Mental Retardation

Claimant's record contains documentation from Harlem Consolidated Schools Special Education Department (hereinafter referred to as "Harlem"), dating from 1972 to 1984. (Tr. 233-246.) On February 19, 1974, in a letter written to Harlem's principal, Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Thomas Hollan, reported:

[a] psychological evaluation indicated that [Claimant's] functioning is within the educably mentally handicapped range. The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children provided a [V]erbal [S]cale [I.Q.] of 72, a [P]erformance [S]cale [I.Q.] of 69, and a [F]ull-[S]cale [I.Q.] of 68. This was in keeping with the Stanford-Binet [I.Q.] of 73. [Claimant] is in the upper[-]level of the educably mentally handicapped range and shows specific deficiencie [sic] that would benefit from special learning disability tutoring. (Tr. 236.) (emphasis added).

On October 2, 2006, Claimant underwent a Social Security Administration psychological evaluation performed by Dr. John L. Peggau, Psy. D.. (Tr. 264.) Dr. Peggau reported Claimant's examination results as follows:

[Claimant] was administered the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-III. [He] obtained a Full-Scale I.Q. score of 61. This score is at the 0.5 percentile and [is] in the extremely low range. At the 95% confidence interval the range is 58-66. This score indicates a substantial limitation in [Claimant's] intellectual and cognitive functioning, relative to those his age. . . . [Claimant] obtained a Verbal I.Q. score of 61. . . . [He] obtained a Performance I.Q. score of 68. (Tr. 265-266.)

In consideration of these results, Dr. Peggau added that "[C]laimant's scaled scores reflect gross limitations [in] all areas evaluated. All of his ...

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