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Rhea M. Weischedel v. Michael J. Astrue

May 4, 2012

RHEA M. WEISCHEDEL, 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 Rhea M. Weischedel is before the Court, represented by counsel, seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disabled Widow's Benefits (DWB).*fn1

Procedural History

Ms. Weischedel applied for benefits in October, 2008, alleging disability beginning on May 30, 2007. (Tr. 151, 155, 158). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. After holding a hearing, ALJ William L. Hafer denied the application for benefits in a decision dated July 7, 2010. (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. Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment at Doc. 17.

Issues Raised by Plaintiff

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in the following respects:

1. He failed to consider all relevant evidence in determining plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC).

2. His credibility analysis was erroneous.

3. The decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Applicable Legal Standards

To qualify for DIB, SSI or DWB, 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. Weischedel 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 Hafer followed the five-step analytical framework described above.

He determined that Ms. Weischedel had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, and that she had severe impairments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, status post insect bite, migraine headaches and degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine. He found that plaintiff's alleged mental impairments were not severe, and he rejected her claim of disabling hand and finger pain. He determined that her impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment.

The ALJ found that Ms. Weischedel had the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of work at the medium exertional level. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that plaintiff has the capacity to perform her past relevant work of fast food worker, cashier, laundry worker, packer and housekeeper.

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 ...


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