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Austin v. Colvin

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

December 2, 2014

CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant

For Stephanie Austin, Plaintiff: James P. Brown, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jeffrey Rabin and Associates, Des Plaines, IL; Allyson Marie St. John, Jeffrey A. Rabin And Associates, Ltd., Des Plaines, IL.

For Carolyn Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant: Kurt N. Lindland, LEAD ATTORNEY, SSA, United States Attorney's Office (NDIL), Chicago, IL.


Ronald A. Guzmá n, United States District Judge.

Stephanie Austin seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security that she is not entitled to supplemental security income (" SSI") and disability insurance benefits (" DIB") under the Social Security Act as amended. 42 U.S.C. § § 423(a), 1381a. Both parties move for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion is granted and the government's motion is denied. The case is remanded to the Social Security Administration for proceedings consistent with this order.

I. Facts

Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI on June 1, 2010, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2009. (AR 26.)[1] Her applications were denied initially, upon reconsideration, and following a hearing by an administrative law judge (" ALJ"). (Id. 79, 81, 26-40.). The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. 6-8.)

Plaintiff was 29 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (Id. 40, 81.) According to the ALJ, Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: Ehler's-Danlos Syndrome (" EDS")[2] osteopenia[3] and celiac sprue.[4] (Id. 28.) She has had chronic joint pain with major reconstruction for the ankles, with a history of multiple joint dislocations. (Id.) According to the ALJ, Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id. 30.) The ALJ further concluded that while Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work as a physical therapy aid, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Id. 40.)

II. Analysis

A. Relevant Law

The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), authorizes judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision to determine " whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence" to support that decision and whether the Commissioner committed an error of law. Garfield v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 1984). Substantial evidence is " such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). Although a claimant has the burden to prove disability, the ALJ has a duty to develop a full and fair record. Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1098 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court reviews the ALJ's decision de novo but gives deference to any factual findings. Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 734 (7th Cir. 2006).

The Social Security regulations set forth a five-step sequential evaluation process for the ALJ's determination of whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The ALJ must determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in any substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant's alleged impairment or combination of impairments is severe; (3) whether any of the claimant's impairments meets or equals any impairment listed in the regulations as being so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity; (4) whether the claimant is unable to perform his past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is unable to perform any other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. A finding of disability requires an affirmative answer at either step three or step five, while a negative finding at any step other than step three precludes a finding of disability. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 674 (7th Cir. 2008).

Plaintiff claims that the ALJ made an improper credibility determination regarding Plaintiff's reports of pain. (AR 32.) The Court will overturn a credibility finding only if it is " patently wrong." Prochaska, 454 F.3d at 738. Credibility determinations are governed by SSR 96-7p, which requires the ALJ to evaluate, in light of all of the evidence, " the intensity, persistence and functionally limiting effects" of a claimant's symptoms and the extent to which they affect her ability to work. SSR 96-7p, Id. at *14, 1996 WL 374186, at *1-2 (S.S.A. July 2, 1996). " Although a claimant can establish the severity of [her] symptoms by [her] own testimony; [her] subjective complaints need not be accepted insofar as they clash with other, objective medical evidence in the record." Arnold v. Barnhart, 473 F.3d 816, 823 (7th Cir. 2007).

As an initial matter, the ALJ stated that:

After careful consideration of the evidence, the undersigned finds that the claimant's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not credible to the ...

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