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Gary W. Hearty v. Michael J. Astrue

May 1, 2012

GARY W. HEARTY, 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 Gary W. Hearty seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying him Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB).*fn1

Procedural History

Mr. Hearty applied for benefits in February, 2009, alleging disability beginning on August 20, 2000. (Tr. 61). He was represented by an attorney at the administrative level (Tr. 22), but is pro se in this Court. His application was denied initially and on reconsideration. The alleged date of onset was later amended to June 11, 2007. (Tr. 78). After holding a hearing, ALJ Mitchell F. Stevens denied the application for benefits in a decision dated May 19, 2010. (Tr. 13-20). Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council, and the decision of the ALJ became the final agency decision. (Tr. 6).

Administrative remedies have been exhausted and a timely complaint was filed in this Court.

Issues Raised by Plaintiff

Mr. Hearty filed a brief at Doc. 21 in which he describes some of his medical history and states that physical labor causes him shortness of breath, which usually brings on chest pains.

Applicable Legal Standards

To qualify for DIB a claimant must be disabled within the meaning of the applicable statutes. 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. Hearty was, in fact, disabled within the relevant time period, 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 Stevens followed the five-step analytical framework described above. He noted first that the alleged onset date was amended to June 11, 2007, which was Mr. Hearty's 50th birthday. He determined that Mr. Hearty had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, and that he had severe impairments of coronary artery disease, a reported history of seizures and chronic pulmonary obstructive disease. He further determined that these impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment. He also noted that Mr. Hearty was obese. The ALJ found that Mr. Hearty had the residual functional capacity to perform work at the light exertional level with some postural and environmental limitations. Using the Grids, the ALJ found that Mr. Hearty was not disabled as of the date he was last insured, i.e., March 31, 2008.

The Evidentiary Record

The Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The following is a ...


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