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Prindablee v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 26, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.[1]



         In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Dennis Prindable seeks judicial review of the final agency decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for DIB on April 1, 2013, alleging an onset date of April 15, 2011. (Tr. 160-63.) His claim was initially denied on July 23, 2013, and again upon reconsideration on February 13, 2014. (Tr. 70, 81.) Plaintiff requested a hearing, which Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Stuart Janney conducted on July 14, 2015. (Tr. 104-05, 30-69.) ALJ Janney issued an unfavorable decision following the hearing. (Tr. 13-24.) The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final agency decision. (Tr. 1-7.) Plaintiff exhausted all of his administrative remedies and filed a timely complaint with this Court. (Doc. 1.)

         Applicable Legal Standards

         To qualify for DIB or SSI, a claimant must be disabled within the meaning of the applicable statutes.[2] 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. 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).

         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 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) ([u]nder 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 the Commissioner made no mistakes of law. This 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 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)). This Court uses the Supreme Court's definition of substantial evidence: “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). While judicial review is deferential, however, 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 Janney followed the five-step analytical framework set forth above. He determined that plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2016, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. Plaintiff had severe impairments of thoracic and lumbar spondylosis; bilateral hip osteoarthritis status post left total hip arthroplasty; right shoulder impingement treated surgically; and left shoulder rotator cuff tear treated surgically. (Tr. 15.) ALJ Janney opined plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work, with several restrictions. (Tr. 19.) The ALJ concluded plaintiff was not disabled because he could perform past relevant work. (Tr. 23.)

         The Evidentiary Record

         The Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The following summary of the record is directed to the points raised by plaintiff.

         1. Agency Forms

         In his disability report, plaintiff alleged bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, a back injury, and a right rotator cuff injury limited his ability to work. (Tr. 200.) His highest grade of education was twelfth grade. (Tr. 201.)

         As of June 2015, plaintiff was prescribed Lamictal, Cymbalta, Fentanyl, Vicodin, Temazepam, Omeprazole, Ambien, and Latuda. (Tr. 260.)

         In his initial function report, plaintiff indicated his conditions limited his ability to lift, squat, bend, stand, reach, walk, sit, kneel, climb stairs, complete tasks, concentrate, follow instructions, and get along with others. (Tr. 180.) On a typical day, plaintiff got out of bed around 9:00 am to take care of his pets. This included letting his dogs out and feeding his horses. He then cleaned up and ate lunch in the afternoon. Plaintiff read, then had dinner around 6:00 pm, and showered and got dressed. He read or watched television until around 10:00 pm, when he went to bed. (Tr. 175.) His conditions prevented him from working, riding horses, and exercising. He also had difficulty falling and staying asleep due to pain. (Tr. 176.) He sat down to get dressed to avoid standing, and had trouble bending to put his socks and shoes on. He took quick showers to avoid standing and had difficulty bending to wash his legs and feet. Plaintiff also had trouble clipping his toenails. (Tr. 176.) Plaintiff performed light cleaning for about twenty minutes, every other day; did dishes, daily, for five minutes; did laundry, twice per week, for one and a half hours; and mowed his lawn, once a week, for forty-five minutes. (Tr. 177.) Plaintiff grocery shopped, weekly, and was able to pay his bills, count change, handle a savings account, and use a checkbook. His conditions ...

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