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Adaire v. Colvin

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

November 22, 2013

JAMIE L. ADAIRE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION

SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jamie L. Adaire seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin's final decision that found Plaintiff was not disabled, and, therefore, not entitled to disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 301 et seq. The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Byron G. Cudmore pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636, who recommended that the Commissioner's final decision be affirmed. See d/e 23. Plaintiff now objects to Magistrate Judge Cudmore's Report and Recommendation. See Objections, d/e 25, 27. The Court OVERRULES Plaintiff's Objections and ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation (d/e 23) as the Order of the Court. Administrative Law Judge Barbara Welsch (the "ALJ") supported her decisions with substantial evidence and relied on evidence in the record to determine that Plaintiff's reports of his mental and physical limitations lacked credibility. Furthermore, Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that the ALJ was biased against Plaintiff. Accordingly, the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance (d/e 21) is GRANTED and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 19) is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff applied for disability benefits on April 6, 2004, alleging disability as of July 1, 2002. d/e 17-1 at 30; d/e 17-14 at 2. The Illinois Bureau of Disability Determination Services denied Plaintiff's claim both initially and on reconsideration. d/e 17-14 at 2. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing on his claim before an ALJ. On July 23, 2007, ALJ Welsch denied Plaintiff's claim following a hearing. d/e 17-14 at 11. Plaintiff then sought review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council.

Meanwhile, on December 17, 2007, the Illinois Bureau of Disability Determination Services ruled on a second application for disability benefits filed by Plaintiff and found that Plaintiff was disabled. d/e 17-14 at 14. The Appeals Council reopened and remanded the state agency's December 17, 2007 favorable determination along with the ALJ's July 23, 2007 unfavorable decision. The two proceedings were consolidated on remand with an order that ALJ Welsch resolve the discrepancy. d/e 17-1 at 30; d/e 17-14 at 17.

On June 3, 2009, ALJ Welsch conducted a supplementary hearing. d/e 17-1 at 30; d/e 17-17 at 29. On November 23, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying both of Plaintiff's claims that had been consolidated on remand. d/e 17-1 at 27. Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, and the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request. Denial of the request meant that ALJ Welsch's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. d/e 17-1 at 19; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955(a), 404.981.

A. The ALJ Determined On Remand that Plaintiff's Physical and Mental Limitations Do Not Prevent Plaintiff from Engaging in Gainful Employment

In the decision, ALJ Welsch concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2002 and that Plaintiff suffered from severe impairments due to scoliosis, right cubital tunnel syndrome, headaches, depression, anxiety, and somatization disorder[1]. ALJ Decision 2009, d/e 17-1 at 32. If Plaintiff's impairments or combination of impairments had met or equaled a Listing in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, then Plaintiff would have been considered disabled. However, the ALJ found, based on the opinions of Dr. Roger Traycoff, M.D., Dr. John Fisk, M.D., and Dr. Joshua Warach, M.D., that Plaintiff's reports of his physical and mental limitations lacked credibility. The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff had not presented credible evidence demonstrating his impairments met or equaled Listing 1.02 for joint problems, 1.03 for surgeries, 1.04 for spinal disorders, 1.11 et seq. for neurological impairments, 12.04 for depression, 12.06 for anxiety, and 12.07 for somatoform disorder. ALJ Decision 2009, d/e 17-1 at 33.

After determining Plaintiff did not have impairments that met or equaled a Listing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity to perform light and sedentary work except that Plaintiff could not climb or work at unprotected heights, perform over the shoulder reaching, perform repetitive bending or stooping, kneel or crawl, or perform rapid repetitive hand movements. ALJ Decision 2009, d/e 17-1 at 34. The ALJ also limited Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity to unskilled work that is routine and repetitive in nature. ALJ Decision 2009, d/e 17-1 at 34.

To support this Residual Functional Capacity finding, the ALJ relied on the opinions of state agency physicians Dr. Julio Pardo, M.D., Dr. Towfig Arjmand, M.D., and Dr. Frank Jimenez, M.D., and state agency psychologists Dr. D. Galassi-Hudspeth, Psy.D., and Dr. Margaret Wharton, Psy.D. However, the ALJ did not rely on Plaintiff's treating physician Dr. Paul Smelter's opinion that Plaintiff could not work because of Plaintiff's limits on the use of his right hand and arm. d/e 17-1 at 37, 39. Additionally, the ALJ rejected the opinions of Dr. G. Leighton Wasem, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, regarding Plaintiff's mental and physical limitations. d/e 17-1 at 40.

Based on this Residual Functional Capacity finding, Plaintiff was not able to perform his past relevant work as a psychiatric aide/ward attendant, hotel clerk, and laundry worker. However, vocational expert Dr. James Lanier, Ph.D., testified during the first administrative review hearing that an individual of Plaintiff's age, education, past relevant work experience, and Residual Functional Capacity could perform the light work of an order clerk, information clerk, ticket seller, and small package deliverer, or the sedentary work of a surveillance system monitor, ticket checker, and information clerk. d/e 17-1 at 46-47. Dr. James Lanier also testified that none of these jobs requires the use of an individual's dominant hand. d/e 22-1 at 29. ALJ Welsch relied on Dr. Lanier's testimony in each of her decisions denying Plaintiff's claims for Social Security Disability Benefits.

B. Plaintiff Sought Review in this Court of the Commissioner's Decision that Plaintiff is Not Disabled

Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court for review of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). d/e 1. Later, on January 5, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. In the Motion, Plaintiff argued that the ALJ erred by finding Plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Plaintiff also argued that the ALJ erred by not giving controlling weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician Dr. Smelter, by rejecting Dr. Wasem's opinions, by failing to address vocational expert Bonnie Gladden's testimony, by not adequately considering the opinions of state agency psychologist Dr. Linda Lanier, Ph.D., and state agency physician Dr. Vittal Chapa, M.D., and by finding Plaintiff's reports about the severity of his impairments not credible. Furthermore, Plaintiff argued that the ALJ was biased against Plaintiff.

On April 2, 2012, the Commissioner filed a Motion for Summary Affirmance of the Commissioner's Decision (d/e 21). The case was then referred to Magistrate Judge Cudmore for Report and Recommendation on the Cross Motions for Summary Judgment.

On May 1, 2013, Magistrate Judge Cudmore submitted a Report and Recommendation (d/e 23), recommending that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. The Court accepts and adopts Magistrate Judge Cudmore's recitation of the facts in the Report and Recommendation.

In the Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Cudmore found the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff can perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy was supported by substantial evidence. Additionally, Magistrate Judge Cudmore concluded that the ALJ explained her reasons for not giving Dr. Smelter's opinion controlling weight and for rejecting Dr. Wasem's opinions regarding Plaintiff's physical and mental limitations. Magistrate Judge Cudmore also determined that the ALJ supported her credibility finding with 4evidence from the record and that the ALJ was not biased against Plaintiff. Lastly, Magistrate Judge Cudmore concluded that the ALJ properly rejected vocational expert Bonnie Gladden's response to the hypothetical questions posed by Plaintiff's attorney during the second administrative hearing and that the ALJ adequately considered Dr. Linda Lanier's and Dr. Chapa's opinions.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

If the Appeals Council denies review of an ALJ's decision, as the Appeals Council has done in this case, then the ALJ's decision constitutes the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.R.F. §§ 404.955(a), 404.981. When reviewing this final decision, the issue is whether the ALJ's facts are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is defined as relevant evidence a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion. Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). The ALJ is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, but she must furnish a "logical bridge" between the evidence and her conclusions. Getch v. Astrue , 539 F.3d 473, 480 (7th Cir. 2008). Even if reasonable minds could disagree about whether a claimant was disabled, the Court must still affirm the ALJ's decision if the decision has adequate support. Schmidt v. Apfel , 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th Cir. 2000).

When reviewing a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations of the magistrate judge in the report. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). The Court reviews de novo ...


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