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Rodney D. Vinson v. Michael J. Astrue

February 24, 2012


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


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

Procedural History

Mr. Vinson applied for benefits in November, 2007, alleging disability beginning on January 2, 2006. (Tr. 132, 135). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. After holding a hearing, ALJ Joseph W. Warzycki denied the application for benefits in a decision dated November 5, 2009. (Tr. 12-24). 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.

Issues Raised by Plaintiff

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in the following respects:

1. He failed to include all of plaintiff's limitations in his assessment of residual functional capacity (RFC).

2. He failed to adequately analyze whether plaintiff met Listing 12.05A, mental retardation.

3. The ALJ's credibility analysis was erroneous. 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 Mr. Vinson 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." Richardson 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 Mr. Vinson had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, and that he had severe impairments of sickle cell disease with secondary priapism, chronic low back pain, left wrist osteoarthritis, depression and alcohol abuse. He further determined that these impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Mr. Vinson had the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of work at the light exertional level. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that Mr. Vinson has the capacity to perform work such as housekeeper and cashier, both of which exist in significant numbers in the local and national economies.

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 points raised by plaintiff. Because Mr. Vinson does not challenge the ALJ's findings with respect to his physical condition, the Court will not describe that evidence.

1. Agency Forms

Mr. Vinson was born in 1968, and was 37 years old when he allegedly became disabled. He was last insured for DIB as of December 31, 2010. (Tr. 175). He stopped working on January 2, 2006, due to a broken left hand and learning disability. (Tr. 180). He worked as a janitor from 1996 through 2005. He cleaned offices and a medical building. (Tr. 181).

Plaintiff's cousin Anquinette White completed a report in which she stated that plaintiff had no problems with personal care such as bathing and dressing. She said he helps clean the kitchen and rake the yard. He is able to go out alone, but does not drive. He is able to pay bills, but could not use a checkbook because he cannot read or write. He is able to follow spoken instructions. He can pay attention for 1 hour. He handles stress badly. (Tr. 195-202). She also indicated that he cleans his bedroom and vacuums. He cannot lift anything heavy. (Tr. 208).

Ms. White also indicated that plaintiff suffered a brain injury when he was hit by a car at ...

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