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Carolyn D. Holloway v. Michael J. Astrue

October 10, 2012

CAROLYN D. HOLLOWAY, 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 Carolyn D. Holloway 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

Ms. Holloway applied for benefits in 2009, alleging disability beginning on April 13, 2008. (Tr. 101). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. After a hearing, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) William L. Hafer denied the application on December 3, 2010. (Tr. 11-18). Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council, and the December 3, 2010, decision became the final agency decision. (Tr. 1).

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

Issues Raised by Plaintiff

Plaintiff raises the following issues:

(1) The ALJ erred in that he failed to consider or misstated evidence favorable to plaintiff's claim.

(2) The ALJ's determination of plaintiff's credibility is patently wrong.

(3) Because of the above errors, the ALJ's assessment of plaintiff's RFC is erroneous.

(4) The ALJ erred in weighing the medical evidence, specifically, in the weight he afforded to the opinions of her treating rheumatologist, Mark Stern, M.D.

(5) Because of the above errors, the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence.

Applicable 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).

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 unemployed; (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 answer at steps one and two is "yes," the claimant will automatically be found disabled if he or she suffers from a listed impairment, determined at step three. If the claimant has a severe impairment but does not meet or equal a listed impairment at step three, and cannot perform his or her past work (step four), the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant can perform some other job. Rhoderick v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984). The Commissioner bears the burden of showing 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 Ms. Holloway was, in fact, disabled during the relevant time period, 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)).

This Court uses the Supreme Court's definition of "substantial evidence," that is, "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); Shideler v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 306, 310 (7th Cir. 2012). 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 found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, and that she is insured for DIB through March 31, 2012. He concluded that plaintiff has severe impairments of fibromyalgia and heel spurs. He found that her alleged mental impairment was not severe, and that her impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment. (Tr. 13-14)

The ALJ concluded that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a limited range of light work. The ALJ concluded that plaintiff's statements about her symptoms were not credible to the extent that they conflicted with this RFC assessment. (Tr. 14-17). At step 4, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was able to perform her ...


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