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Kenneth Henderson v. Michael J. Astrue

October 26, 2012

KENNETH HENDERSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. Holderman, Chief Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Kenneth Henderson seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for a period of disability, Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Social Security Disability Insurance benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Henderson filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 18) requesting that the Commissioner's decision be set aside or reversed and remanded. The Commissioner also filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 28) requesting that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. For the reasons set forth below, Henderson's motion is denied, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and the Commissioner's final decision is affirmed.

BACKGROUND

Henderson filed a Title II application for a period of disability and supplemental disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for SSI on May 31, 2009. (See R. at 21.) Henderson alleged that he suffered from a variety of conditions causing him to be disabled, including obesity, prostate cancer, degenerative joint disease, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and hypertension. (R. at 23.) In the application, Henderson alleged that his disability began on March 1, 2008. (R. at 21.) The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denied Henderson's claims initially on September 25, 2009, and on rehearing on December 31, 2009. (Id.) Henderson then requested a hearing. It was held on July 20, 2010 by the assigned ALJ. (Id.)

On July 28, 2010, the ALJ denied Henderson's application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, finding that, for the period from March 1, 2008, through the date of the hearing, although Henderson had some limitations, he was capable of performing sedentary work.

(R. at 25, 32.) Henderson requested review of the ALJ's decision, and the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council denied his request on December 23, 2010 (Dkt. No. 1-1, at 1), making the July 28, 2010, ruling by the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561 (7th Cir. 2009). Henderson filed his complaint in this court on January 13, 2011, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (Dkt. No. 1.) The case was initially assigned to Judge William Hibbler. Cross motions for summary judgment were filed. Briefing on those motions followed. Judge Hibbler passed away on March 19, 2012, before he could rule on the pending motions. The case was reassigned to this court on March 21, 2012.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court performs a de novo review of the ALJ's legal conclusions, while giving deference to the ALJ's factual determinations. Jones v.Astrue, 623 F.3d 1155, 1160 (7th Cir. 2010). In other words, the court "will uphold the Commissioner's decisions so long as the ALJ applied the correct legal standard and substantial evidence supported the decision." Castile v. Astrue, 617 F.3d 923, 926 (7th Cir. 2010); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence is 'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Jones, 623 F.3d at 1160 (quoting Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007)). When reviewing for substantial evidence, the court does not substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ by re-weighing evidence or making credibility determinations. Skinner, 478 F.3d at 841. The court does, however, require that the ALJ adequately explain his decision by building "a 'logical bridge' between the evidence and the conclusions so that [the court] can assess the validity of the agency's ultimate findings and afford the claimant meaningful judicial review." Jones, 623 F.3d at 1160 (quoting Getch v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 473, 480 (7th Cir. 2008)).

ANALYSIS

I. Listing 1.02

The Social Security Administration requires an ALJ to follow a five-step process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The five-step process requires the ALJ to ask:

1) is the claimant presently unemployed; 2) is the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments severe; 3) does the impairment meet or exceed any of the list of specific impairments (the grid) that the Secretary acknowledges to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity; 4) if the impairment has not been listed by the Secretary as conclusively disabling, is the claimant unable to perform his or her former occupation; and 5) if the claimant cannot perform the past occupation, is the claimant unable to perform other work in the national economy in light of his or her age, education and work experience.

Young v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 957 F.2d 386, 389 (7th Cir. 1992). When applying those steps, "[a] negative conclusion at any step (except for step three) precludes a finding of disability. An affirmative answer at steps one, two or four leads to the next step. An affirmative answer at steps three or five results in a finding of disability." Id.

Step three provides a short cut for a claimant to show a disability without an inquiry into his ability to perform employable work, instead allowing him "to establish his entitlement to benefits by showing that he has an impairment equal in severity to a list of severe impairments that the Social Security Administration maintains." O'Connor v. Sullivan, 938 F.2d 70, 72 (7th Cir. 1991) (citing 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1520(d), 416.920(d)). Here, after reaching step three, the ALJ considered ...


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