United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CLIFFORD J. PROUD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Jackie
Coffey seeks judicial review of the final agency decision
denying the application of her late father for Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
father Curtis Westerman applied for benefits in February
2012, alleging disability beginning on September 30, 2011.
After holding an evidentiary hearing, ALJ Lee Lewin denied
the application in a written decision dated August 23, 2013.
(Tr. 8-19). The Appeals Council denied review, and the August
23, 2013, decision of the ALJ became the final agency
decision. (Tr. 1).
Westerman passed away on December 4, 2013. See, Doc. 21, p.
remedies have been exhausted and a timely complaint was filed
in this Court.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following points:
1. The ALJ improperly classified Mr. Westerman’s high
blood pressure as a non-severe impairment.
2. The ALJ failed to include the effects of Mr.
Westerman’s right hand tremor in the RFC assessment.
3. The medical expert refused to answer questions in terms of
specific work-related functional abilities.
4. The ALJ asked the vocational expert a hypothetical
question that did not state limitations in terms of specific
work-related functional abilities.
qualify for DIB, a claimant must be disabled within the
meaning of the applicable statutes. For these purposes,
“disabled” means the “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).
“physical or mental impairment” is an impairment
resulting from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§423(d)(3). “Substantial gainful activity”
is work activity that involves doing significant physical or
mental activities, and that is done for pay or profit. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1572.
Security regulations set forth a sequential five-step inquiry
to determine whether a claimant is disabled. The Seventh
Circuit Court of Appeals has explained this process as
The first step considers whether the applicant is engaging in
substantial gainful activity. The second step evaluates
whether an alleged physical or mental impairment is severe,
medically determinable, and meets a durational requirement.
The third step compares the impairment to a list of
impairments that are considered conclusively disabling. If
the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments,
then the applicant is considered disabled; if the impairment
does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then the
evaluation continues. The fourth step assesses an
applicant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and
ability to engage in past relevant work. If an applicant can
engage in past relevant work, he is not disabled. The fifth
step assesses the applicant's RFC, as well as his age,
education, and work experience to determine whether the
applicant can engage in other work. If the applicant can
engage in other work, he is not disabled.
Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565, 568-569 (7th
another way, it must be determined: (1) whether the claimant
is presently unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has an
impairment or combination of impairments that is serious; (3)
whether the impairments meet or equal one of the listed
impairments acknowledged to be conclusively disabling; (4)
whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and (5)
whether the claimant is capable of performing any work within
the economy, given his or her age, education and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; Simila v.
Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 512-513 (7th Cir. 2009.
answer at steps one and two is “yes, ” the
claimant will automatically be found disabled if he or she
suffers from a listed impairment, determined at step three.
If the claimant does not have a listed impairment at step
three, and cannot perform his or her past work (step four),
the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show
that the claimant can perform some other job. Rhoderick
v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984). See
also Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir.
2001) (Under the five-step evaluation, an “affirmative
answer leads either to the next step, or, on Steps 3 and 5,
to a finding that the claimant is disabled…. If a
claimant reaches step 5, the burden shifts to the ALJ to
establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in
the national economy.”).
Court reviews the Commissioner’s decision to ensure
that the decision is supported by substantial evidence and
that no mistakes of law were made. It is important to
recognize that the scope of review is limited. “The
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). Thus, this
Court must determine not whether Mr. Westerman was, in fact,
disabled at the relevant time, but whether the ALJ’s
findings were supported by substantial evidence and whether
any errors of law were made. See, Books v. Chater,
91 F.3d 972, 977-78 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Diaz v.
Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 306 (7th Cir. 1995)).
Supreme Court has defined “substantial evidence”
as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971).
In reviewing for “substantial evidence, ” the
entire administrative record is taken into consideration, but
this Court does not reweigh evidence, resolve
conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its
own judgment for that of the ALJ. Brewer v. Chater,
103 F.3d 1384, 1390 (7th Cir. 1997); Moore v.
Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1121 (7th Cir. 2014). At the same
time, while judicial review is deferential, it is not abject;
this Court does not act as a rubber stamp for the
Commissioner. See, Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920,
921 (7th Cir. 2010), and cases cited therein.
Decision of the ALJ
Lewin followed the five-step analytical framework described
above. She determined that claimant had not worked at the
level of substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset
date and that he was insured for DIB through December 31,
found that Mr. Westerman had severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; obesity;
history of discectomy and fusion in the cervical spine;
history of right carpal tunnel syndrome release;
osteoarthritis of the knees and hips; and tremors in the
right hand. She further determined that his impairments did
not meet or equal a listed impairment.
found that Mr. Westerman had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform work at the light exertional level with some
physical limitations. Based on the testimony of a vocational
expert, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Westerman could not do his
past work, but he was not disabled because he was able to do
several jobs which exist in significant numbers in the local
and national economies.
Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary
record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The
following summary of the record ...