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Thelma Young v. Michael J. Astrue

October 5, 2011

THELMA YOUNG , PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE , MARTIN ASHMAN COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Thelma Young ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of Defendant, Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act. Before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment. The parties have consented to have this Court conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including entry of final judgment. 28 U.S.C. § 636(e);

N.D. Ill. R. 73.1(c). For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's motion is granted, and the Commissioner's motion is denied.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on March 16, 2005, alleging that she became disabled as of April 30, 1999. (R. 59). The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied the claim initially and again on reconsideration. Plaintiff subsequently filed a request for rehearing, following which a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Dennis Greene ("ALJ") on August 8, 2007. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to March 16, 2004.

(R. 21). On August 30, 2007, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's request, and she subsequently filed a request for review. After the Appeals Council denied it on July 17, 2008, the ALJ's holding became the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff subsequently filed the instant action seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision on September 4, 2008.

II. Legal Standard

In order to qualify for DIB, a claimant must demonstrate that he is disabled. An individual is considered to be disabled when he is unable 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." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). An individual is under a disability if he is unable to do his previous work and cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, partake in any gainful employment that exists in the national economy. Id. Gainful employment is defined as "the kind of work usually done for pay or profit, whether or not a profit is realized."

20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(b).

A claim of disability is determined under a five-step analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520;

20 C.F.R. § 416.920. First, the SSA considers whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(4)(I). Second, the SSA examines if the physical or mental impairment is severe, medically determinable, and meets the durational requirement.

20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(4)(ii). Third, the SSA compares the impairment to a list of impairments that are considered conclusively disabling. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(4)(iii). If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, then the applicant is considered disabled; if the impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then the evaluation proceeds to step four. Id. Fourth, the SSA assesses the applicant's ability to engage in past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(4)(iv). In the final step, the SSA assesses whether the claimant can engage in other work in light of his RFC, age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(4)(v).

Judicial review of the ALJ's decision is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides that "[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." Substantial evidence is "such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The court reviews the entire record, but does not displace the ALJ's judgment by reweighing the facts or by making independent credibility determinations. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). Instead, the court looks at whether the ALJ articulated an "accurate and logical bridge" from the evidence to her conclusions. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008). Thus, even if reasonable minds could differ whether the Plaintiff is disabled, courts will affirm a decision if the ALJ's decision has adequate support. Elder, 529 F.3d at 413 (citing Schmidt v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 833, 842 (7th Cir. 2007)).

III. Factual Background

Plaintiff was sixty-one years old at the time of the hearing. Her educational history includes two years of full-time community college and a third part-time year. Plaintiff began caring for four children with learning and cognitive disabilities in 1996 and adopted them in 2004.*fn1 (R. 185). All four children have learning disabilities and were Plaintiff's dependents throughout the time for which she is claiming DIB. (R. 183-84). Plaintiff attended classes part time for approximately six months to learn how to care for her disabled children. (R. 183). At the time of the hearing, she lived with her four dependent children as well as with her thirty-one year old biological son. (R. 190-91).

A. Work History

Plaintiff was employed as a transportation supervisor at the Chicago Transit Authority ("CTA") from October 24, 1974 through April 30, 1999. (R. 59, 83). This job required Plaintiff to drive and be active throughout the workday, and occasionally required her to lift and carry bags of salt weighing more than twenty pounds over short distances. (R. 102, 192). For an eight-month period she also held a position as a receptionist, which involved answering the phone but not typing. However, no earnings statements appear in the record related to the receptionist job. After Plaintiff's April 30, 1999 injury, she had been working ...


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