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Craig v. Colvin

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

December 11, 2014

BEULAH L. CRAIG, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

For Beulah L. Criag, Plaintiff: Barry Alan Schultz, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Barry Schultz, Evanston, IL.

For Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: LaShonda Annette Hunt, LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Attorney's Office (NDIL), Chicago, IL; AUSA-SSA, United States Attorney's Office (NDIL), Chicago, IL.


SHARON JOHNSON COLEMAN, United States District Judge.

Beulah Craig seeks review of the Social Security Administration's decision denying her disability benefits.[1] An ALJ determined that Craig is not disabled under federal law. Craig requests that this court vacate the agency's decision or remand to the agency. Because substantial evidence supports the agency's decisions, its findings of fact are conclusive. The court, therefore, affirms the agency's decision.


Legal Background

Federal law provides benefits and supplemental security income to certain individuals who are disabled and who can no longer work. To be eligible for benefits, an individual must have a " disability" within the meaning of federal law. A person, generally, is disabled if he or she has an:

inability to engage in 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.

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Social Security employs a five-step process to determine whether an applicant for benefits is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520, 416.920. Relevant here are both step four, which considers whether an applicant is able to perform past relevant work, see id., and an intermediate step, one that the agency conducts between steps three and four, in which the agency considers the most that a person in the same position as the claimant is able to do. See id.; § 404.1545(a)(1).

Factual Background

In September 2007, Craig submitted both an application for disability benefits and an application for supplemental security income. Dkt. # 12-6 at 2-3 & 9-11. Craig stated that she became disabled on June 1, 2007, and that she sought benefits based on arthritis throughout her body and gout. Id. at 2, 9.

After reviewing Craig's submissions, on December 5, 2007, the agency denied Craig's applications because it found that she was not disabled. Dkt. # 12-4 at 2-3. The evidence indicated to the agency that Craig's conditions caused her some restrictions in her ability to function, but the agency concluded that she was still able to work based on her description of her work in data entry and as a clerical staffer. Dkt. # 12-5 at 8, 18-19. Craig requested reconsideration of the agency's decision, Id. at 9, and both a physician and a disability examiner independently reviewed Craig's request. Dkt. # 12-4 at 4-5. On March 14, 2008, Social Security affirmed its prior decisions. Id.

Upon Craig's request, Dkt. # 12-5 at 17, an ALJ in the agency's Office of Disability Adjudication and review held a hearing in Craig's case in Orland Park, Illinois on September 22, 2009. Dkt. # 12-3 at 28. At the time of the hearing, Craig was 5'2" in height and 245 pounds in weight. Id. at 38. She testified that around June 1, 2007, she began experiencing bad back pain, bad gout, swelling in her feet, aching in her knees, arthritis, and problems with her pelvis. Id. at 36. Craig explained that her feet swelling would last for about a month at a time and that the issue required her to put her feet in cold water. Id. Because of the swelling, Craig had to use crutches to walk and a motorized cart to go grocery shopping. Id. at 37, 39. She said that she could not walk a block, stand for fifteen minutes, or lift heavy objects, without pain. Id. at 38-39. Craig also testified to additional medical issues she experienced, including floaters, headaches, high blood pressure, and frequent urination during the day and night. Id. at 44-47. Craig's medication caused her to use the restroom about once an hour throughout the day. Id. at 47.

A medical expert who reviewed Craig's file testified that Craig suffered from degenerative joint disease, hip arthritis, hypertension, obesity, and gout. Id. at 52. In the expert's opinion, Craig's impairments were not comparable in severity to those listed in applicable regulations. Id. The expert related that Craig's medical files did not reflect frequent swelling from the gout and that he did not detect any " erosive changes, " a sign of " active" gout. Id. at 54. The expert stated that " [p]ain caused by gout is excruciating" and explained that his opinion might differ if Craig's file showed requests for " extremely strong pain medication, " bony changes, close follow-up by Craig's treating physician " for optimization of the uric acid, " or frequent doctor visits ...

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