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Billee A. Combs v. Michael J. Astrue

November 15, 2011

BILLEE A. COMBS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Proud, Magistrate Judge:

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Billee A. Combs is before the Court, represented by counsel, seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).*fn1

Procedural History

Ms. Combs applied for benefits in June, 2007, alleging disability beginning on December 1, 2005. (Tr. 164, 167). Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. After holding a hearing, ALJ Joseph W. Warzycki denied the application for benefits in a decision dated October 27, 2009. (Tr. 9-18). Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council, and the decision of the ALJ became the final agency decision. (Tr. 1). Administrative remedies have been exhausted and a timely complaint was filed in this Court.

Issue Raised by Plaintiff

As her only point, plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in finding that she did not meet the requirements of Listing 4.04, ischemic heart disease.

Applicable Legal Standards

To qualify for DIB or SSI, a claimant must be disabled within the meaning of the applicable statutes.*fn2 For these purposes, "disabled" means the "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." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(A). A "physical or mental impairment" is an impairment resulting from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3) and 1382c(a)(3)(C). "Substantial gainful activity" is work activity that involves doing significant physical or mental activities, and that is done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1572.

Social Security regulations set forth a sequential five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled. It must be determined: (1) whether the claimant is presently unemployed;

(2) whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that is serious; (3) whether the impairments meet or equal one of the listed impairments acknowledged to be conclusively disabling; (4) whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work within the economy, given his or her age, education and work experience. Schroeter v. Sullivan, 977 F.2d 391, 393 (7th Cir. 1992); see also, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b-f).

This Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to ensure that the decision is supported by substantial evidence and that no mistakes of law were made. The scope of review is limited. "The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Thus, this Court must determine not whether Ms. Combs is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence and whether any errors of law were made. See, Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 977-78 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 306 (7th Cir. 1995)). This Court uses the Supreme Court's definition of substantial evidence, i.e, "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richard v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

In reviewing for "substantial evidence," the entire administrative record is taken into consideration, but this Court does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ. Brewer v. Chater, 103 F.3d 1384, 1390 (7th Cir. 1997). However, while judicial review is deferential, it is not abject; this Court does not act as a rubber stamp for the Commissioner. See, Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010), and cases cited therein.

The Decision of the ALJ

ALJ Warzycki followed the five-step analytical framework described above. He determined that Ms. Combs had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, and that she has severe impairments of coronary artery disease and obesity. Based on the testimony of an impartial medical expert, the ALJ determined that these impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Ms. Combs has the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of work at the light exertional level. A vocational expert (VE) testified that she could perform jobs which exist in significant numbers in the national and local economy. The ALJ accepted this testimony, and found that she is not disabled. (Tr. 9-18).

The Evidentiary Record

The Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The following summary of the record is directed to the issue raised by plaintiff. Because plaintiff does not raise any issue with regard to her alleged mental impairment, the Court will not discuss that evidence.

1. Agency Forms

Ms. Combs was born in 1969, and was almost 36 years old when she allegedly became disabled. (Tr. 206). She was last insured for DIB through December 31, 2010. (Tr. 206).

A Work History Report indicates that Ms. Combs' past work was taking care of elderly people as a Certified Nurse Assistant from ...


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