United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division
SARA DARROW, District Judge.
Plaintiff Eric T. Raverty requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). This matter comes before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 11, and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance, ECF No. 19. For the following reasons the Court GRANTS the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.
Eric Raverty was 34 years old when he filed for DIB. See R. 193. He has a high school education, R. 223, and has previously worked as a grocery store assistant manager, cashier, delivery truck driver, and cook, R. 218. Until he filed for DIB, Raverty earned approximately $33, 000 per year in his grocery store managerial job. R. 218. The Claimant states that he had to resign from his job due to his medical conditions. R. 85.
II. Procedural History
Raverty filed a claim for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits on June 17, 2009, alleging that his disability began on November 16, 2008. R. 191-99. On his application Raverty claimed that his ability to work was limited by congestive heart failure, extreme shortness of breath, fluid retention, anxiety, and secondary depression. R. 217. His application was initially denied on August 31, 2009. R. 127-32. Raverty asked the Social Security Administration to reconsider his application and was denied a second time on February 5, 2010. R. 137-41. He requested a hearing, which was held via video conference on June 2, 2011, with Administrative Law Judge David W. Thompson ("ALJ"). R. 79-122. ALJ Thompson found that Raverty had three severe impairments: dilated cardiomyopathy, moderate/severe left ventricular dysfunction, and obesity. R. 61. Despite these severe impairments, the ALJ also found that Raverty retained the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work except that he may only occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl, kneel, and climb ramps or stairs. R. 62. The RFC also includes the restriction that Raverty cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and he must avoid environmental factors such as concentrated exposure to extreme heat, extreme cold, dusts, odors, gases, fumes, and unprotected heights. Id. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, ALJ Thompson found that there were a significant number of jobs in the local and national economy that Raverty could perform. R. 65-66. As a result of this analysis, the ALJ found that Raverty was not disabled between November 16, 2008, and July 26, 2011. R. 67. On March 2, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Raverty's request for review, making the ALJ's decision final. R. 27-29. Raverty filed the present action on November 16, 2012, requesting judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g).
I. District Court Review of the ALJ Decision
The Court's function on review is not to try the case de novo or to supplant the ALJ's findings with the Court's own assessment of the evidence. See Schmidt v. Apfel , 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th Cir. 2000); Pugh v. Bowen , 870 F.2d 1271, 1274 (7th Cir. 1989). Instead, the Court's role is to determine whether the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. See Cannon v. Apfel , 213 F.3d 970, 975 (7th Cir. 2000). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, the court reviews the record as a whole but does not reconsider facts, reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts in evidence, or decide questions of credibility. See id. (citing Williams v. Apfel , 179 F.3d 1066, 1072 (7th Cir. 1999)). Substantial evidence is defined as such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Henderson v. Apfel , 179 F.3d 507, 512 (7th Cir. 1999). Even if reasonable minds could differ concerning a disability determination, the ALJ's decision must be affirmed if it is adequately supported. See Elder v. Astrue , 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). Indeed, "[t]he 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); Powers v. Apfel , 207 F.3d 431, 434 (7th Cir. 2000).
Although great deference is afforded to the determination made by the ALJ, the Court does not "merely rubber stamp the ALJ's decision." Scott v. Barnhart , 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). Rather, the ALJ's decision must "sufficiently articulate their assessment of the evidence to assure us that they considered the important evidence and to enable us to trace the path of their reasoning." Id. at 595 (quoting Hickman v. Apfel , 187 F.3d 683, 689 (7th Cir. 1999)). The ALJ has a duty to "minimally articulate his or her justification for rejecting or accepting specific evidence of disability." Scheck v. Barnhart , 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Steward v. Bowen , 858 F.2d 1295, 1299 (7th Cir. 1988)). Further, the ALJ's decision must build an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and the ultimate conclusions. Parker v. Astrue , 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010); Scott , 297 F.3d at 595. "Although the ALJ need not discuss every piece of evidence in the record, he must confront the evidence that does not support his conclusion and explain why it was rejected." Indoranto v. Barnhart , 374 F.3d 470, 474 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Kararsky v. Barnhart , 335 F.3d 539, 543 (7th Cir. 2002)). If there is an error of law, "reversal is, of course, warranted irrespective of the volume of evidence supporting the factual findings." Schmoll v. Harris , 636 F.2d 1146, 1150 (7th Cir. 1980).
II. Entitlement to Benefits
In order to be entitled to Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and/or Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), a claimant must show that his inability to work is medical in nature and that he is totally disabled. Economic conditions, personal factors, financial considerations, and attitudes of employers are irrelevant in determining whether a claimant is eligible for disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966. The establishment of disability under the Social Security Act is a two-step process.
First, the claimant must be suffering from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, or combination of impairments, 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 twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).
Second, there must be a factual determination that the impairment renders the claimant unable to engage in any substantial gainful employment. See McNeil v. Califano , 614 F.2d 142, 143 (7th Cir. 1980). This factual determination is made ...