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Kimberlee K. Hines v. Michael J. Astrue

September 14, 2012

KIMBERLEE K. HINES, 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 Kimberlee K. Hines 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).*fn1

Procedural History

Plaintiff filed an application for DIB in March, 2010, alleging disability beginning on November 13, 2009. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. After holding two evidentiary hearings, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Stephen M. Hanekamp denied the application for benefits in a decision dated April 7, 2011. (Tr. 12-23). Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council, and the April 7, 2011, decision became the final agency decision. (Tr. 1-6).

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

Issue Raised by Plaintiff

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in discounting the opinion of her treating

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 #710 whether Ms. Hines was, 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 Hanekamp followed the five-step analytical framework described above. He determined that Ms. Hines had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. She was insured for DIB through December 31, 2013. The ALJ found that plaintiff had severe impairments of scoliosis, degenerative disc disease, post-traumatic syndrome with peripheral neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma and allegations of memory difficulties. He found that her alleged depression was not a severe impairment. A lumbar MRI incidentally showed a small tumor in her lung, which was found to be cancer. This was successfully treated with surgery, and she did not require chemotherapy or radiation.

The ALJ further determined that plaintiff's impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Ms. Hines had the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of work at the light exertional level. A vocational expert 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. 12-23).

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 point raised by plaintiff.

1. Agency Forms

Plaintiff was born in December, 1960, and was almost 49 years old on the alleged onset date. (Tr. 204). She was 5'10" and weighed 130 pounds. She alleged head and ...


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