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Ray B v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

August 26, 2019

RANDALL RAY B, [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER of SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DONALD G. WILKERSON, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff, represented by counsel, 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 disability benefits in April 2015, alleging disability as of January 4, 2013. After holding an evidentiary hearing, an ALJ denied the application on January 9, 2018. (Tr. 15-34). 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.

         Issues Raised by Plaintiff

         Plaintiff raises the following points:

1. The ALJ failed to consider whether he met the requirements of Listing 12.05, Intellectual Disorder.
2. The ALJ erred by selectively considering and “cherry-picking” the evidence.
3. The ALJ erred in assessing the reliability of the allegations made by plaintiff and his wife.
4. An IQ test done in May 2016 should have been the basis for reopening a prior application and should have led to a finding that he met Listing 12.05 and perhaps Listing 12.02.

         Applicable Legal Standards

         To qualify for DIB, a claimant must be disabled within the meaning of the applicable statutes. Under the Social Security Act, a person is disabled if he 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. He was insured for DIB only through December 31, 2017.

         A prior application had been denied on January 6, 2015. The ALJ denied plaintiff's request to reopen that application.

         The ALJ found that plaintiff had severe impairments of status post-CVA (stroke), anxiety, mood disorder, chronic pain syndrome, and obesity, and these impairments did not meet or equal a Listing.

         The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform work at the light exertional level limited to no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolding; occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; and no concentrated exposure to workplace hazards. He was also limited to simple, routine tasks with only occasional interaction with the public.

         Plaintiff had no past relevant work. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that was able to do other jobs that exist in ...


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