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Brian M. R. v. Acting Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 12, 2018

BRIAN M. R., Plaintiff,
v.
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. PHIL GILBERT DISTRICT JUDGE

         In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Brian M. R. 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 filed for DIB on June 6, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2007. (Tr. 158-61.) Plaintiff's claim was denied initially, and again at the reconsideration level. (Tr. 79-98.) Plaintiff requested an evidentiary hearing, which Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Barry H. Jenkins conducted in December 2014. (Tr. 109-10, 38-78.) ALJ Jenkins issued an unfavorable opinion in October 2015 and the Appeal's Council denied plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final agency decision. (Tr. 19-33, 1-4.) Plaintiff exhausted all of his administrative remedies and filed a timely complaint with this Court. (Doc. 1.)

         Plaintiff's Arguments

         Plaintiff makes the following arguments:

1. The ALJ improperly found that plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal a Listing.
2. The ALJ's credibility determination was erroneous.

         Legal Standards

         To qualify for benefits, a claimant must be “disabled” pursuant to the Social Security Act. The Act defines a “disability” as 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). The physical or mental impairment must result from a medically demonstrable abnormality. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3). Moreover, the impairment must prevent the plaintiff from engaging in significant physical or mental work activity done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572.[1]

         Social Security regulations require an ALJ to ask five questions when determining whether a claimant is disabled. The first three questions are simple: (1) whether the claimant is presently unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe physical or mental impairment; and (3) whether that impairment meets or is equivalent to one of the listed impairments that the regulations acknowledge to be conclusively disabling. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565, 569 (7th Cir. 2011). If the answers to these questions are “yes, ” then the ALJ should find that the claimant is disabled. Id.

         At times, an ALJ may find that the claimant is unemployed and has a serious impairment, but the impairment is neither listed in nor equivalent to the impairments in the regulations- failing at step three. If this happens, then the ALJ must ask a fourth question: (4) whether the claimant is able to perform his or her previous work. Id. If the claimant is not able to, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner to answer a fifth and final question: (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work within the economy, in light of the claimant's age, education, and work experience. If the claimant cannot, then the ALJ should find the claimant to be disabled. Id.; see also Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 512-13 (7th Cir. 2009); Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001).

         A claimant may appeal the final decision of the Social Security Administration to this Court, but the scope of review here is limited: while the Court must ensure that the ALJ did not make any errors of law, the ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive as long as they are supported by “substantial evidence.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable person would find sufficient to support a decision. Weatherbee, 649 F.3d at 568 (citing Jens v. Barnhart, 347 F.3d 209, 212 (7th Cir. 2003)). The Court takes into account the entire administrative record when reviewing for substantial evidence, but it 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). But even though this judicial review is limited, the Court should not and does not act as a rubber stamp for the Commissioner. Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010).

         The ALJ's Decision

         ALJ Jenkins followed the five-step analytical framework set forth above. He determined plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2012 and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2007, the alleged onset date. Plaintiff had severe impairments of bilateral radiculopathy, hepatitis C, sensorineural hearing loss with occasional tinnitus, schizophrenia, and anxiety related disorder. (Tr. 24.) None of these impairments met or equaled a Listing. (Tr. 25-27.) Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work with several additional limitations, which prevented him from performing any past relevant work. (Tr. 27-31.) However, jobs existed in the national economy that plaintiff could perform and, therefore, he was not disabled. (Tr. 32-33.)

         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. ...


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