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Patterson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 21, 2017

MICHAEL W. PATTERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. PHIL GILBERT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Michael W. Patterson seeks judicial review of the final agency decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for benefits in March 2014. He first alleged that he became disabled as of May 28, 2010. He later amended his onset date to November 5, 2013: the day after his prior application was denied. After holding an evidentiary hearing, ALJ Stuart T. Janney denied the application on December 31, 2015. (Tr. 19-31.) The Appeals Council denied review, and the decision of the ALJ became the final agency decision. (Tr. 1.) The plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies and filed a timely complaint in this Court.

         Plaintiff's Arguments

         Through counsel, plaintiff makes the following arguments:

1. The physical and mental RFC assessments were not supported by substantial evidence.
2. The ALJ failed to properly consider the VE's testimony about how his frequent healthcare appointments would affect his ability to work.
3. The credibility assessment was erroneous.

         Applicable Legal Standards

         For purposes of DIB, “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).

         Stated another way, the Commissioner must determine: (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).

         This Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to ensure that the Commissioner made no mistakes of law and that decision is supported by substantial evidence. 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 only whether the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence and that the ALJ made no mistakes of law. 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); Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1121 (7th Cir. 2014). 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 described above. He determined that Mr. Patterson was insured for DIB through December 31, 2014, and that he had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since the alleged date of disability.[1] He found that plaintiff had severe impairments of degenerative disc disease; left hip bursitis and pelvic osteopenia; cataract and corneal scarring secondary to a burn injury; exposure to anhydrous ammonia fumes with burns; asthma; seizure and hypomagnesemia; depression disorder NOS; anxiety disorder; and posttraumatic stress disorder. These impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment.

         The ALJ found that plaintiff had the RFC to perform work at the medium exertional level with a number of physical and mental limitations. Based on the testimony of a VE, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not able to do his past relevant work. He was, however, not disabled because he was able to do other jobs ...


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