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Lundeen v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division

March 27, 2014

LOUANNA F. LUNDEEN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

SARA DARROW, District Judge.

An administrative law judge denied Plaintiff Louanna Lundeen's application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. She appealed that denial to this Court. At issue are Lundeen's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 9, and the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance, ECF No. 10. For the reasons set forth below, Lundeen's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED, and the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

Lundeen filed a claim for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on July 31, 2008, alleging disability beginning on February 8, 2008. Her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") David Thompson held a hearing on October 22, 2010. ALJ Thompson found that Lundeen had three severe impairments-hidradenitis suppurativa (a skin disease), diabetes, and obesity-but determined that she has the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") to lift ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally, and stand for at least two hours during an 8-hour work day. ALJ Thompson also found that there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Lundeen could perform. On April 23, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Lundeen's request for review, making ALJ Thompson's decision final unless Lundeen filed a civil action in United States District Court. Lundeen has filed a civil action and seeks review of the ALJ's decision. Lundeen's arguments and all relevant medical evidence will be discussed below as needed.

LEGAL FRAMEWORK

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 consider 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).

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)). Further, the ALJ's decision must build an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and the ultimate conclusions. Id. "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 Kasarsky v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 539, 543 (7th Cir. 2002)).

II. Entitlement to Benefits

In order to be entitled to Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and/or Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), a plaintiff must show that her inability to work is medical in nature and that she is totally disabled. Economic conditions, personal factors, financial considerations, and attitudes of employers are irrelevant in determining whether a plaintiff 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 plaintiff 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 plaintiff 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 by using a five-step test. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

The five-step test requires the ALJ to evaluate whether the plaintiff:

1) Has not, during the relevant time period performed any substantial ...

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