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Jakita L. Smith v. Michael J. Astrue

July 20, 2012


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


In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Jakita L. Smith is before the Court, represented by counsel, seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits.*fn1

Procedural History

In 2001, while she was a minor, Jakita Smith was awarded SSI benefits due to mental retardation. (Tr. 41). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1382c(a)(3)(H)(iii), when she reached the age of 18, the Commissioner "redetermined" her eligibility to receive benefits using the adult criteria. In December, 2008, the Commissioner determined that she was no longer qualified to receive SSI benefits. (Tr. 37). The cessation of benefits was affirmed on reconsideration. After holding an evidentiary hearing, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Joseph W. Warzycki issued a written decision on August 24, 2010, finding that she was not disabled. (Tr. 12-20). Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council, and the August 24, 2010, decision became the final agency decision. (Tr. 1A).

Plaintiff has exhausted her administrative remedies and has filed a timely complaint in this court.

Issue Raised by Plaintiff

Plaintiff raises the following issues:

1. The ALJ erred in finding that she did not meet the requirements of Listing12.05C, Mental Retardation.

2. Remand is required because one page of a report issued by Dr. Rudolph, a consultative examiner, is missing.

Applicable Standards

In the Social Security context, a claimant is "disabled" when she has 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).*fn2 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).

Social Security regulations set forth a sequential five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled. In essence, it must be determined (1) whether the claimant is presently employed; (2) whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe; (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. See, Schroeter v. Sullivan, 977 F.2d 391, 393 (7th Cir. 1992); Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b-f). If the Commissioner finds that the claimant has an impairment which is severe and she is not capable of performing her past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that there are a significant number of jobs in the economy that claimant is capable of performing. See, Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146, 107 S. Ct. 2287, 2294 (1987); Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995).

It is important to keep in mind the proper standard of review for this Court. "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, the Court must determine not whether plaintiff is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence; and, of course, whether any errors of law were made. See, Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 977-978 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 306 (7th Cir.1995)). The Supreme Court has defined substantial evidence as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420,1427 (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). In analyzing the ALJ's decision for "fatal gaps or contradictions," the Court "give[s] the opinion a commonsensical reading rather than nitpicking at it. Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561, 564 (7th Cir. 1999). 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. Smith had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, and that she had severe impairments of borderline intellectual functioning, right lower extremity impairment of unknown etiology, and history of asthma. He accepted the results of the IQ testing administered by Dr. Deppe, which were higher than the results on the tests given by Dr. Rudolph. Based on those results, he ...

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