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James Gonis v. Michael J. Astrue

November 28, 2012

JAMES GONIS, 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 James Gonis 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. Gonis applied for benefits in August, 2009, alleging disability beginning on March 24, 2009. (Tr. 165). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. After holding a hearing, ALJ William L. Hafer denied the application for benefits in a decision dated September 12, 2011. (Tr. 11-22). Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council, and the decision of the ALJ became the final agency decision. (Tr. 1).

Administrative remedies have been exhausted and a timely complaint was filed in this Court. Issues Raised by Plaintiff

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in the following respects:

1. He failed to develop the record in that he denied plaintiff's request for a consultative physical examination following an MRI of his lumbar spine.

2. He found that plaintiff was functionally illiterate but failed to include that limitation in his hypothetical question to the vocational expert.

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). 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). "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 whether Mr. Gonis is, 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 Hafer followed the five-step analytical framework described above. He determined that Mr. Gonis was insured for DIB through March 31, 2011, and that he had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. He determined that plaintiff had severe impairments of history of coronary artery disease with bypass grafting, minimal arthritis of the left rotator cuff, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, depression, learning disorder with test results in the borderline range of intellectual functioning and functional illiteracy, and hypertension controlled with medication. He further determined that these impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment.

The ALJ found that Mr. Gonis had the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of work at the light exertional level. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that Mr. Gonis was unable to do his past relevant work, but he was able to do other work such as cleaner and hand packer, both of which exist in significant numbers in the regional economy.

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 ...


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