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Darrow Laverne Wyatt v. Michael J. Astrue

February 28, 2013

DARROW LAVERNE WYATT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joe Billy McDADE United States Senior District Judge

E-FILED

Friday, 01 March, 2013 01:24:10 PM Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD

ORDER & OPINION

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 7) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance (Doc. 9). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying disability benefits to Plaintiff. (Doc. 1 at 3). For the reasons stated below, the ALJ's decision is affirmed. Thus, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied and Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance is granted.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On July 11, 2008, Plaintiff Darrow Wyatt applied for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits under the Social Security Act ("Act"), alleging he became disabled on April 15, 2008, following two strokes and a "heartache." (R. at 115-131, 125). His application for benefits was denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. at 59-63, 69). A hearing was held on February 23, 2010, at Plaintiff's request. (R. at 76-77). Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Gerard J. Rickert determined that Plaintiff was not disabled and denied benefits in a written decision dated September 20, 2010. (R. at 15-22). The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. (R. at 1-3). Plaintiff filed the present action on December 28, 2011, seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1).

LEGAL STANDARDS

I. Disability Standard

To be entitled to disability benefits under the Social Security Act, a claimant must prove he is unable to "engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner must make factual determinations in assessing the claimant's ability to engage in substantial gainful activity. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(b)(1). The Commissioner applies a five-step sequential analysis to determine whether the claimant is entitled to benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;*fn1 see also Maggard v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 376, 378 (7th Cir. 1999). The claimant has the burden to prove disability through step four of the analysis, i.e., he must demonstrate an impairment that is of sufficient severity to preclude him from pursuing his past work. McNeil v. Califano, 614 F.2d 142, 145 (7th Cir. 1980).

In the first step, a threshold determination is made as to whether the claimant is presently involved in a substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not under such employment, the Commissioner of Social Security proceeds to the next step. Id. At the second step, the Commissioner evaluates the severity and duration of the impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has an impairment that significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, the Commissioner will proceed to the next step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the claimant's impairments, considered in combination, are not severe, he is not disabled and the inquiry ends. Id. At the third step, the Commissioner compares the claimant's impairments to a list of impairments considered severe enough to preclude any gainful work; if the elements of one of the Listings are met or equaled, the claimant is eligible for benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii); 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

If the claimant does not qualify under one of the listed impairments, the Commissioner proceeds to the fourth and fifth steps, after making a finding as to the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). At the fourth step, the claimant's RFC is evaluated to determine whether he can pursue his past work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If he cannot, then, at step five, the Commissioner evaluates the claimant's ability to perform other work available in the economy, again using his RFC. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

II. Standard of Review

When a claimant seeks judicial review of an ALJ's decision to deny benefits, the Court must "determine whether it was supported by substantial evidence or is the result of an error of law." Rice v. Barnhart, 384 F.3d 363, 369 (7th Cir. 2004). The Court's review is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides, in relevant part: "The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." Substantial evidence is "'such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Maggard, 167 F.3d at 379 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).

In a substantial evidence determination, the Court will review the entire administrative record, but it will "not reweigh the evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute [its] own judgment for that of the Commissioner." Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000). In particular, credibility determinations by the ALJ are not upset "so long as they find some support in the record and are not patently wrong." Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 335 (7th Cir. 1994). The Court must ensure that the ALJ "build[s] an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion," but he need not have addressed every piece of evidence. Clifford, 227 F.3d at 872. Where the decision "lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, the case must be remanded." Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).

BACKGROUND

I. Relevant Medical History*fn2

Plaintiff alleges his disability began on April 15, 2008, initially as the result of past strokes and heart problems. (R. at 115-131, 125). In April 2008, Plaintiff suffered a heart attack. (See R. at 42).*fn3 Though Plaintiff returned to work with reduced hours thereafter, this coincides with the alleged onset date of disability. (See R. at 38, 42). On July 5, 2008, Plaintiff went to the emergency room because of chest pain. (R. at 207). Testing revealed "transient acute ST elevation."*fn4 (R. at 207). Further tests showed normal heart wall motion and an ejection fraction of sixty-five percent,*fn5 and his coronary angiogram was normal. (R. at 207, 210-11). These findings were consistent with a coronary artery spasm. (R. at 207). Plaintiff was also diagnosed with hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure, and hyperlipidemia.*fn6 (R. at 207). A chest x-ray during this hospital visit showed degenerative changes in the thoracic spine. (R. at 229). Plaintiff was treated and released with prescriptions for medication after being observed for twenty-four hours without complication. (R. at 207). He did not return to work after that. (R. at 39).*fn7

On July 29, 2008, Plaintiff began seeing Dr. Devashish Agarwal. (R. at 271). Dr. Agarwal noted Plaintiff had coronary artery disease, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia, and that he was stable with no acute symptoms. (R. at 271). Plaintiff complained of side effects from his nitroglycerin, prescribed to treat his hypertension. (R. at 271). By Plaintiff's next visit to Dr. Agarwal, on September 15, 2008, he had stopped taking the nitroglycerin medication because of the side effects.

(R. at 269). Dr. Agarwal noted "[Plaintiff] knows the risks of discontinuing medication abruptly but is not ready to start his nitroglycerin." (R. at 269).

The medical records first show complaints of neck pain during Plaintiff's October 27, 2008, visit to Dr. Agarwal. (R. at 267). His coronary artery disease was noted as stable. (R. at 267). Plaintiff's financial difficulties were stated as the reason he could not see a cardiologist. (R. at 267). Dr. Agarwal noted arthritic changes in ...


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