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Lehner v. Colvin

United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

March 27, 2015

CANDI SUE LEHNER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, acting commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

HON. MARIA VALDEZ, United States Magistrate Judge

Plaintiff Candi Lehner (“Plaintiff”) filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”), which denied her claim for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the following reasons, the Court denies Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment, [Doc. No. 15], and grants the Commissioner’s Motion for Summary Judgment, [Doc. No. 26].

BACKGROUND

I.PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY[1]

Plaintiff has suffered from a litany of medical problems throughout her life, and, prior to this application, she filed three unsuccessful disability claims. Unfortunately, Plaintiff suffered a mild stroke in 2008, and thus filed another application for Title II and Title XVI benefits on December 18, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of October 15, 2008. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Accordingly, Plaintiff requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who determined that she was not disabled at Step Five of the Social Security Administration’s sequential analysis.

At the hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: coronary artery disease/stroke; thyroid disorder/Grave’s disease; and depression/anxiety disorder. After determining that Plaintiff did not meet any listed impairment, the ALJ then calculated Plaintiff’s Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) and found that she could perform light work with the following exceptions: she can lift ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally; she can stand or walk for six hours in an eight-hour day, but she should stand only for thirty minutes at a time and walk only for fifteen minutes a day; she can occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; she can occasionally perform tasks involving fine finger manipulation; she must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants, hazardous machinery, and unprotected heights; she should be limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks with simple instructions, no production-rate pace, and no more than occasional interaction with supervisors, co-workers, and the public; and her work should require only occasional far visual acuity, and allow her to wear sunglasses at will.

The ALJ then consulted with a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to determine if Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work or any jobs in the national economy. On the basis of her RFC assessment and the VE’s testimony, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work, but that she could perform other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. The ALJ thus found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

I. ALJ LEGAL STANDARD

Under the Social Security Act, a person is disabled if she is unable “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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(a). In order to determine whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ conducts a five-step analysis and considers the following in order: (1) Is the claimant presently unemployed? (2) Does the claimant have a severe impairment? (3) Does the impairment meet or medically equal one of a list of specific impairments enumerated in the regulations? (4) Is the claimant unable to perform her former occupation? and (5) Is the claimant unable to perform any other work? 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).

An affirmative answer at either step 3 or step 5 leads to a finding that the claimant is disabled. Young v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 957 F.2d 386, 389 (7th Cir. 1992). A negative answer at any step, other than at step 3, precludes a finding of disability. Id. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps 1–4. Id. Once the claimant shows an inability to perform past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to show the claimant’s ability to engage in other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.

II. JUDICIAL REVIEW

Judicial review of the ALJ’s decision is limited to determining whether the ALJ’s findings are supported by substantial evidence or based upon legal error. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000); Stevenson v. Chater, 105 F.3d 1151, 1153 (7th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Under this standard, the ALJ is not required to address “every piece of evidence or testimony in the record, [but] the ALJ’s analysis must provide some glimpse into the reasoning behind her decision to deny benefits.” Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001). Rather, the ALJ must simply “build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion, ” Clifford, 227 F.3d at 872, and minimally articulate the “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).

A court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner by reevaluating facts, reweighing evidence, resolving conflicts in evidence, or deciding questions of credibility. Skinner, 478 F.3d at 841. Thus, where conflicting evidence would allow reasonable minds to differ, the court must defer to the ...


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