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Carolyn Benford v. Michael J. Astrue

September 20, 2011

CAROLYN BENFORD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Carolyn Benford ("Benford") seeks judicial review pursuant to Social Security Act ("Act") §405(g)*fn1 of the final decision of Commissioner of Social Security Michael Astrue ("Commissioner") that denied Benford's claim for supplemental security income ("SSI") disability benefits and disability insurance benefits ("Benefits"). Both parties have moved for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56, and Benford has alternatively moved to remand for further proceedings. For the reasons stated here, both Rule 56 motions are denied, but Benford's alternative motion to remand is granted.

Standard of Review and Applicable Law

This Court reviews the decision of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Robert Asbille as Commissioner's final decision, reviewing the legal conclusions de novo (Haynes v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005)). Because by contrast factual determinations receive deferential review, courts may not "reweigh the evidence or substitute [their] own judgment for that of the ALJ" and will affirm Commissioner's decision "if it is supported by substantial evidence" (id.). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion" (Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)(internal quotation marks and citations omitted)).

As cases such as Haynes, 416 F.3d at 626 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) teach:

In rendering a decision, the ALJ must build a logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion [but] need not...provide a complete written evaluation of every piece of testimony and evidence.

Hence "[i]f the Commissioner's decision lacks adequate discussion of the issues, it will be remanded" (Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir. 2009)). Reversal is also required if the ALJ has committed a legal error, regardless of how much evidence supports his or her determination (Binion on behalf of Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997)).

To qualify for benefits a claimant must be "disabled" within the meaning of the Act (Liskowitz v. Astrue, 559 F.3d 736, 739 (7th Cir. 2009), citing Section 423(a)(1)(E)). "Disability" is defined in Section 423(d)(1)(A) as an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." Claimants must also demonstrate that the disability arose during the period when they were insured (Section 423(a)(1)(A) and (c)(1)).

Social Security regulations set forth a sequential, five-step inquiry that must be conducted to determine whether a claimant satisfies this definition (Liskowitz, 559 F.3d at 740, citing Reg. §§404.1520 and 416.920). Specifically, the ALJ must determine (Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001), citing Reg. §404.1520):

(1) whether the claimant is currently employed, (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment, (3) whether the claimant's impairment is one that the Commissioner considers conclusively disabling, (4) if the claimant does not have a conclusively disabling impairment, whether she can perform her past relevant work, and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

Procedural Background

Benford filed applications for SSI and Benefits on May 23, 2007 alleging disability beginning December 1, 2006 (R. 16). Her claims were denied initially on July 27, 2007 and then on reconsideration on November 13, 2007 (id.). Benford requested a hearing, which the ALJ held on July 9, 2009 (id.), resulting in the issuance of an adverse decision on September 29 of that year (id. 16-22). On November 6, 2009 Benford requested review, and the Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied his request on September 24, 2010 (id. 5-8). Benford now seeks judicial review.

Factual Background

Benford's ...


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