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Rodgers v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 26, 2017

BENJAMIN ALLEN RODGERS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.[1]

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. PHIL GILBERT, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         In 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.

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff 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 this court.

         Issues Raised by Plaintiff

         Plaintiff raises the following issues:

         1. The ALJ failed to consider whether he was entitled to a closed period of disability.

         2. The ALJ failed to analyze all relevant evidence in assessing plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”).

         3. The credibility determination was erroneous.

         Applicable Legal Standards

         To 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.

         Social 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 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.

Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565, 568-569 (7th Cir. 2011).

         Stated 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. 1992).

         If the 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.”).

         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 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).

         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). 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 cited therein.

         The Decision of the ALJ

         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.

         The ALJ 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.

         ALJ 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.

         Based 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 not disabled.

         The ...


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