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Stanley v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 22, 2016

JAMIE RAE STANLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. PHIL GILBERT, DISTRICT JUDGE

         In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Jamie Rae Stanley seeks judicial review of the final agency decision denying her Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for benefits in August 2011, alleging disability beginning on August 12, 2011 (Tr. 13). After holding an evidentiary hearing, ALJ Roxanne L. Kelsey denied the application for benefits in a decision dated January 24, 2014 (Tr. 13-22). The Appeals Council denied review, and the decision of the ALJ became the final agency decision (Tr. 1). Administrative remedies have been exhausted and a timely complaint was filed in this Court.

         Issues Raised by Plaintiff

         Plaintiff raises the following points:

1. The ALJ failed to build a logical bridge between the evidence and her conclusions regarding plaintiff's musculoskeletal pain.
2. The ALJ failed to build a logical bridge between the evidence and her conclusions regarding plaintiff's asthma and COPD.
3. The ALJ failed to build a logical bridge between the evidence and her conclusions regarding plaintiff's depression and anxiety.
4. The ALJ failed to properly evaluate plaintiff's credibility.
5. The ALJ violated SSR 96-8p by failing to explain how she concluded that plaintiff could perform “the full range of light work.”

         Applicable Legal Standards

         To qualify for DIB or SSI, a claimant must be disabled within the meaning of the applicable statutes.[1] 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).

         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.

         Social Security regulations set forth a sequential five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Under this procedure, 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. Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 512-13 (7th Cir. 2009); Schroeter v. Sullivan, 977 F.2d 391, 393 (7th Cir. 1992).

         The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has explained this process as follows:

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.

Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 674 (7th Cir. 2008); accord Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565, 569 (7th Cir. 2011).

         This 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 Ms. Stanley 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)).

         The 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, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (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. Murphy v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 811, 815 (7th Cir. 2014). However, 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) (collecting cases).

         The Decision of the ALJ

         ALJ Kelsey followed the five-step analytical framework described above. She found that plaintiff was insured for DIB through June 30, 2013.[2] She determined that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of disability.

         A prior application for benefits had been denied as of August 11, 2011, the day before the current alleged date of disability.

         The ALJ found that plaintiff had severe impairments of depression, panic disorder without agoraphobia, COPD, asthma and degenerative disc disease. She further determined that those impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment.

         The ALJ found that Ms. Stanley's allegations about her impairments and limitations were not “entirely credible.” She determined that plaintiff had the RFC to perform work at the light exertional level with physical and mental limitations. She was unable to do her past relevant work. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not ...


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