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Huggins v. Colvin

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

August 19, 2014

TIMOTHY L. HUGGINS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

SARA DARROW, District Judge.

Plaintiff Timothy L. Huggins appeals 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, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 6, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance, ECF No. 10. For the following reasons, both Motions are GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

BACKGROUND

I. Facts

Timothy Huggins has a high school education, R. 48, and has previously worked as a factory welder, delivery sales driver, and cook, R. 155. In his most recent job, Huggins earned about $41, 000 per year as a factory welder for Caterpillar. R. 140. Around June 23, 2009, Huggins began reporting symptoms including high blood pressure, anxiety, sleeping trouble, dizziness, and headaches. R. 377-80. As of August 4, 2009, Huggins reported that he had ceased working entirely due to his dizziness and other medical conditions. R. 383. Specifically, Huggins claims, he cannot work due to difficulties driving, unpredictable dizzy spells, and leg swelling and pain that prevents him from standing or sitting for extended periods and requires him to elevate his legs three to four hours each day. See R. 48, 50, 53-54.

He also claims to have breathing problems, chronic pain from a rib injury, memory and concentration difficulties, and severe daytime fatigue due to sleeping only two to three hours per night. R. 48-49, 55, 58. Because he sleeps so little each night, he takes a 30 to 40 minute nap each day. R. 59. Huggins claims to experience shortness of breath and dizziness when climbing stairs; to have difficulty walking more than a block due to windedness and cramping; and to be unable to do more than simple exercises that do not raise his heart rate. See R. 47-49, 53-54, 60. He has been diagnosed as obese, R. 654, and weighed 333 pounds as of July 1, 2011, R. 46.

Huggins lives with his wife, who performs most of the household chores. R. 56-57. He does not do any activities lasting more than 15 to 20 minutes, and watches television for most of the day. Id. He only drives a few times per week due to his dizziness, which he said has also caused him to fall down his stairs. R. 47, 55.

II. Procedural History

Huggins filed a claim for Disability Insurance Benefits on January 12, 2010, for a period of disability beginning on June 23, 2009. R. 153-62. Huggins claimed that his ability to work was limited by his reactive airway disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, deep vein thrombosis ("DVT"), dizziness of unknown etiology, and pain related to a left rib fracture. R. 154. His application was initially denied on April 15, 2010. R. 17. Huggins asked the Social Security Administration to reconsider his application and was denied a second time on August 5, 2010. Id. He then requested a hearing, which was held on July 1, 2011, with Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Robert H. Schwartz. R. 42.

The ALJ found that Huggins had six severe impairments-reactive airway disease, COPD, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, DVT, and dizziness of unknown etiology-as well as two impairments that did not qualify as "severe": continuing pain due to a rib fracture and a history of hypertension. R. 19-20. ALJ Schwartz also found that Huggins retained the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") to lift, carry, push, and/or pull no more than 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; to stand and/or walk at least two hours in an eight hour workday; to occasionally climb ramps or stairs, but not ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and that Huggins must avoid even moderate exposure to fumes, odors, dust, gases, poor ventilation, and concentrated exposure to workplace hazards. R. 21. ALJ Schwartz found that although Huggins is unable to perform any past relevant work, there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform, such as eyewear assembler, circuit board screener, or document preparer/telephone clerk. R. 27-28.

As a result of this analysis, ALJ Schwartz determined that Huggins was not disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 23, 2009, through July 15, 2011. R. 28. On July 25, 2011, Huggins requested a review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. R. 130. The Appeals Council denied Huggins's request for review on October 11, 2012, making the ALJ's decision final. R. 5. Huggins filed the instant action on January 31, 2013, requesting the Court's review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

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 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. Though 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. ...


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