United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Benjamin
Allen Rodgers, represented by counsel, seeks review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying
his application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
applied for disability benefits in November 2014, alleging
disability beginning on September 25, 2013. After holding an
evidentiary hearing, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Kevin R. Martin denied the application in
a decision dated December 10, 2015. (Tr. 22-36). The Appeals
Council denied plaintiff's request for review, and the
ALJ's decision became the final agency decision subject
to judicial review. (Tr. 1). Plaintiff has exhausted his
administrative remedies and has filed a timely complaint in
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following issues:
ALJ failed to consider whether he was entitled to a closed
period of disability.
ALJ failed to analyze all relevant evidence in assessing
plaintiff's residual functional capacity
credibility determination was erroneous.
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) and
1382c(a)(3)(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) and
1382c(a)(3)(C). “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);
Schroeter v. Sullivan, 977 F.2d 391, 393 (7th Cir.
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 Secretary 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 understand that
the scope of judicial 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 plaintiff was, in fact, disabled, 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)). This Court uses the Supreme Court's
definition of substantial evidence, i.e., “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
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). 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), and cases
Decision of the ALJ
Martin followed the five-step analytical framework described
above. He determined that Mr. Rodgers had not been engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date and
that he was insured for DIB through December 31, 2019.
found that plaintiff had severe impairments of multiple
injuries suffered in a parachuting accident, including
multiple lower extremity fractures and knee instability;
obesity; and adjustment disorder. He found that these
impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment.
Martin concluded that plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity to perform work at the sedentary exertional level,
limited to occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; no
climbing of ropes, ladders and scaffolding; occasional
balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; and
occasional push/pull with the left lower extremity. He also
had mental limitations in that he was restricted to
understanding, remembering and carrying out simple
instructions; only occasional interactions with coworkers and
supervisors; only incidental interaction with the public; and
only routine changes in the workplace.
on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ
determined that plaintiff could not do his past work, but he
could perform other jobs which exist in significant numbers
in the national and local economies, and, therefore, he was