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Willie L. Boone v. Michael J. Astrue

January 25, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman


Plaintiff Willie Boone filed a complaint requesting the court to reverse a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who found that plaintiff was not entitled to supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the court denies plaintiff's summary judgment motion and grants defendant's, and the decision denying SSI benefits is affirmed.


Plaintiff applied for SSI in November 2006, alleging that he had been disabled since January 1, 2001, due to back problems, blackouts, headaches, stomach problems, and hearing loss in his left ear. His application was denied initially, and on reconsideration, prompting him to request a hearing before an ALJ. On November 18, 2008, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Denise McDuffie Martin held a hearing at which plaintiff testified, along with a medical expert, and a vocational expert.

The ALJ issued an opinion on February 27, 2009, denying plaintiff's application. The ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled because he could perform a number of jobs in the national economy. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Social Security Commissioner. Plaintiff appealed to this court.


I. Legal Standards

This court must uphold the final decision of the Commissioner so long as his factual findings are supported by substantial evidence and no error of law occurred. Schoenfeld v. Apfel, 237 F.3d 788, 792 (7th Cir. 2001), citing Cannon v. Apfel, 213 F.3d 970, 974 (7th Cir. 2000); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) ("The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive."). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Diaz v. Carter, 55 F.3d 300, 305 (7th Cir. 1995) (internal quotations and citations omitted), and a "mere scintilla" of evidence is not enough. Id. "In addition to relying on substantial evidence, the ALJ must also explain his analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review." Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005), citing Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333-34 (7th Cir. 1994). The court does not substitute its own judgment for the Commissioner's by "reconsidering facts, reweighing evidence, resolving conflicts in evidence, or deciding questions of credibility." Williams v. Apfel, 179 F.3d 1066, 1071-72 (7th Cir. 1999).

To determine whether an individual is entitled to SSI, the ALJ must engage in a sequential five-step process, considering whether: (1) the claimant is currently employed; (2) the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) the claimant's impairment is one that the Commissioner considers conclusively disabling; (4) the claimant's residual functional capacity leaves him unable to perform his past relevant work; and (5) the claimant is unable to perform any other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(f); White v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 654, 657 (7th Cir. 2005). A finding of disability requires an affirmative answer at either step three or five. The claimant bears the burden of proof for the first four steps, and at step five the burden shifts to the Commissioner. See Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004).

II. Analysis

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's decision was not legally sufficient because she failed to perform the proper analysis in evaluating whether: (1) plaintiff's testimony was credible; and (2) plaintiff was capable of performing his past work. Because neither of plaintiff's arguments has merit, the court affirms the Commissioner's final decision.

A. The ALJ Made a Proper Credibility Determination

First, plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in reaching her credibility determination. Contrary to plaintiff's contentions, the ALJ followed the proper procedure and considered a variety of factors in evaluating plaintiff's credibility. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.929(c). She considered the objective medical evidence, plaintiff's work and daily activities, his treatment history, the location, duration, frequency, and intensity of his symptoms, and aggravating and precipitating factors of those symptoms. Each of these factors supported the ALJ's conclusion that plaintiff's subjective complaints were not credible.

Considering the objective medical evidence, the ALJ determined that no "abnormal medical testing" or "severe physical findings" existed that would support a finding of disability. The ALJ also considered in this light the medical expert's testimony, which concluded that plaintiff could perform medium work. Next, the ALJ assessed plaintiff's daily activities, which according to his testimony included cleaning, visiting family, doing errands twice weekly, and taking public transportation. Further, the ALJ considered plaintiff's treatment history and determined that, because plaintiff did not have a regular doctor, did not have consistent treatment, and did not refill the medications prescribed to him, "the medical record does not establish treatment history." The ALJ also examined plaintiff's symptoms and their aggravating and precipitating factors. For example, she noted that the medical expert had found that plaintiff suffered from "physiologic dizziness," which corrects itself when the patient stands up, not vertigo, a more serious condition that involves middle ear disturbance, of which ...

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