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Justin M. S. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 9, 2019

JUSTIN M. S., [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 his application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and Child Disability Benefits (CDB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.[3]

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI and CDB in March 2015, alleging disability as of September 5, 2011. After holding an evidentiary hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied the application in January 2018. (Tr. 17-29). 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 point:

The ALJ erred by failing to account for moderate deficits of concentration, persistence, or pace in the RFC finding.

         Applicable Legal Standards

         To qualify for Child Disability Benefits or SSI benefits, a claimant must be disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. 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. § 416.920(a)(4).

         An affirmative answer at either step 3 or step 5 leads to a finding that the plaintiff is disabled. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001). A negative answer at any step, other than at step 3, precludes a finding of disability. Ibid. The plaintiff bears the burden of proof at steps 1-4. Ibid. Once the plaintiff shows an inability to perform past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to show the plaintiff's ability to engage in other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Ibid.

         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. She determined that plaintiff had not worked at the level of substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. The ALJ found that plaintiff had severe impairments of major depressive disorder (MDD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

         The ALJ found that plaintiff had the RFC to perform work at all exertional levels, “limited to work that involves only simple, routine and repetitive tasks and making simple work-related decisions.” Additionally, plaintiff could “occasionally interact with coworkers and supervisors, but never interact with the general public.” (Tr. 21). Based on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ concluded that plaintiff did not have any past relevant work, but he was able to do jobs which exist in significant numbers in the national economy.

         The ...


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