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Dennis Strong v. Michael J. Astrue

November 21, 2012

DENNIS STRONG, 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 Dennis Strong is before the Court, represented by counsel, seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying him Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB).*fn1

Procedural History

Mr. Strong applied for benefits in July, 2007, alleging disability beginning on February 15, 2006. (Tr. 196). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. After a hearing, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Christina Young Mein denied the application on January 20, 2010. (Tr. 97-105). Plaintiff submitted additional medical records to the Appeals Council in support of his request for review. (Tr. 8-93). Review was denied by the Appeals Council, and the January 20, 2010, decision became the final agency decision. (Tr. 1).

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

Issues Raised by Plaintiff

Plaintiff raises the following issues:

(1) The Appeals Council erred in determining that Dr. Beaty's February 9, 2010, report was not material because it related to plaintiff's condition after the date of the ALJ's decision.

(2) The ALJ's decision was contrary to the weight of the evidence when Dr. Beaty's February 9, 2010, report is considered.

(3) Plaintiff should have been determined to be disabled because, if he were limited to sedentary work, Grid Rule 201.14 would direct a finding of disabled.

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). 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).

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 (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 Mr. Strong 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 (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 ...


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