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Miranda J-T. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

August 9, 2019

MIRANDA J-T., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER of SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DONALD G. WILKERSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

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

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for disability benefits in April 2015, alleging disability as of January 25, 2011. She later amended her onset date to January 1, 2014. After holding an evidentiary hearing, an ALJ denied the application on October 3, 2017. (Tr. 206-219). The Appeals Council denied review, and the decision of the ALJ became the final agency decision. (Tr. 1). Administrative remedies have been exhausted and a timely complaint was filed in this Court.

         Issue Raised by Plaintiff

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's assessment of her subjective statements was erroneous because he relied on misrepresented facts and ignored probative information.

         Applicable Legal Standards

         To qualify for DIB or SSI, a claimant must be disabled within the meaning of the applicable statutes.[3] Under the Social Security Act, a person is disabled if she has an “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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(a).

         To determine whether a plaintiff is disabled, the ALJ considers the following five questions in order: (1) Is the plaintiff presently unemployed? (2) Does the plaintiff have a severe impairment? (3) Does the impairment meet or medically equal one of a list of specific impairments enumerated in the regulations? (4) Is the plaintiff unable to perform her former occupation? and (5) Is the plaintiff unable to perform any other work? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

         An affirmative answer at either step three or step five leads to a finding that the plaintiff is disabled. A negative answer at any step, other than at step three, precludes a finding of disability. The plaintiff bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Once the plaintiff shows an inability to perform past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to show that there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy which plaintiff can perform. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001).

         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 recognize that the scope of 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. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). 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.” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (internal citations omitted).

         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. Burmester v. Berryhill, 920 F.3d 507, 510 (7th Cir. 2019). 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

         The ALJ followed the five-step analytical framework described above. He determined that plaintiff had not worked at the level of substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. She was insured for DIB through December 31, 2017.

         The ALJ found that plaintiff had severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine; migraine headaches; lower extremity deep vein thrombosis; fibromyalgia; multiple sclerosis; hypertension; depression; and anxiety.

         The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform work at the sedentary exertional level limited to no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; only simple, routine, and repetitive tasks where supervision is simple, direct, and concrete for the worker and SVP [specific vocational preparation] 1 or 2 that can be learned in 30 days; no interaction with the public; and not more than occasional changes in the workplace setting.

         Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not able to do her past work as a store manager or customer service representative, but she was able to do other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.

         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 plaintiff's argument.

         1. Agency Forms

         Plaintiff was born in 1975. She was 42 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. A prior claim had been denied as of March 17, 2014. (Tr. 466-467).

         In September 2015 plaintiff reported that she was unable to work because she was unable to stand or sit for very long, she dropped things, and headaches made it impossible to concentrate or even keep her eyes open for long. Her husband did the cooking, housework, and yard work. She had to use a cane or walker at all times. They were prescribed by a doctor in March 2015. She ...


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