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Wright v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

August 25, 2014

KENNETH WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARY M. ROWLAND, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Kenneth Wright filed this action seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") Benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 1381a et seq. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and the parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Kenneth Wright ("Wright") applied for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits on January 14, 2011, claiming several combined disabling impairments. His claim was denied on April 1, 2011 ( id. ), and again on reconsideration on May 23, 2011. ( Id. at 85). Wright then filed a timely request for hearing on July 22, 2011. ( Id. at 95). On June 7, 2012, Wright, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). ( Id. at 30-83). The ALJ also heard testimony from Richard Hammerson, a vocational expert. ( Id. at 78-82).

The ALJ denied Wright's request for benefits on July 13, 2012. (R. at 15-29). Applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Wright had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since January 14, 2011. ( Id. at 20). At step two, the ALJ found that Wright had several severe impairments: osteoarthritis, obesity, gout, sleep apnea, and status-post [sic] left inguinal hernia repair. ( Id. ) At step three, the ALJ determined that Wright does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. ( Id. )

The ALJ then assessed Wright's residual functional capacity (RFC) and determined that he could perform light work with the following exceptions:

lifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently; walking, standing and sitting six hours in an eight hour day with normal rest periods and the need to alternate sitting and standing throughout the workday; occasionally crouching, kneeling and crawling; no working at heights, climbing ladders or frequently negotiating stairs; no operating moving or dangerous machinery; and being off-task 4% of the time in an eight hour workday.

(R. at 21).

At step four, the ALJ concluded that Wright was unable to perform any of his past work, but at step five, the ALJ found that Wright could perform jobs that exist in the national economy in significant numbers. (R. at 24-25). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Wright was not suffering from a disability as defined by the SSA. ( Id. ).

On July 9, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Wright's request for a review of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 1-4). Wright now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).

II. SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

To recover Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") or Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the SSA, a claimant must establish that he or she is disabled within the meaning of the SSA.[1] York v. Massanari, 155 F.Supp.2d 973, 977 (N.D. Ill. 2001); Keener v. Astrue, No. 06 C 0928, 2008 WL 687132, at *1 (S.D. Ill. March 10, 2008). A person is disabled if he or she is unable to perform "any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment 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 12 months." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). In determining whether a claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner conducts a standard five-step inquiry:

1. Is the claimant presently unemployed?
2. Does the claimant have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that interferes with basic work-related activities and is expected to last at least 12 months?
3. Does the impairment meet or equal one of a list of specific impairments enumerated in the regulations?
4. Is the claimant unable to perform his or her former occupation?
5. Is the claimant unable to perform any other work? 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 404.1520, 416.909, 416.920; see Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000). "An affirmative answer leads either to the next step, or, on Steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is disabled. A negative answer at any point, other than Step 3, ends the inquiry and leads to a determination that a claimant is not disabled." Zalewski v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 160, 162 n.2 (7th Cir. 1985). "The burden of proof is on the claimant through step four; only at step five does the burden shift to the Commissioner." Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Judicial review of the ALJ's final decision is authorized by §405(g) of the SSA. The court affirms the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). "In addition to relying on substantial evidence, the ALJ must also explain his analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review." Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). In reviewing this decision, the Court may not engage in its own analysis of whether Plaintiff is severely impaired as defined by the Social Security Regulations. Young, 362 F.3d at 1001. Nor may it "reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, decide questions of credibility, or, in general, substitute [its] own judgment for that of the Commissioner." Id.

Although this Court accords great deference to the ALJ's determination, it "must do more than merely rubber stamp the ALJ's decision." Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). The Court must critically review the ALJ's decision to ensure that the ALJ has built an "accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion." Young, 362 F.3d at 1002. The court remands the case "where the Commissioner's decision lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review." Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).

IV. MEDICAL EVIDENCE

Wright claims that his disability began on January 7, 2009. (R. at 143). On that date, Wright fell while on his way to his seat on a moving bus, and his left quadriceps tendon ruptured. ( Id. at 222). Wright was diagnosed with tendon rupture, and left humoral condyle fracture with mild displacement. (R. at 219). The rupture was surgically repaired in March 2009. (Id. at 227-28).

On February 6, 2009, upon exam by his treating physician Dr. Brenda Jefferson-Byrd, Wright reported 10/10 pain for more than one month in his left leg. (R. at 239). He reported a past medical history of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, a previous bleeding ulcer, sleep apnea and his knee injury. ( Id. ) However, when asked if ...


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