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Bruce D. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

December 4, 2019

BRUCE D.,[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 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 DIB in January 2015, alleging a disability onset date of December 30, 2013. After holding an evidentiary hearing, an ALJ denied the application on September 19, 2017. (Tr. 13-20). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final agency decision subject to judicial review. (Tr. 1). Plaintiff exhausted administrative remedies and filed a timely complaint with this Court.

         Issues Raised by Plaintiff

         Plaintiff raises the following issues:

1. The ALJ did not properly evaluate the opinion of his primary care physician, Dr. Schenewerk.
2. The ALJ's analysis of plaintiff's subjective symptoms is legally insufficient.

         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 3 or step 5 leads to a finding that the plaintiff is disabled. A negative answer at any step, other than at step 3, precludes a finding of disability. The plaintiff bears the burden of proof at steps 1-4. 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. 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). The Supreme Court defines substantial evidence as “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 December 30, 2013, and he was insured for DIB through December 31, 2018. The ALJ found that plaintiff had severe impairments of osteoarthritis of both knees, degenerative disc disease, heart disease, sleep apnea, obesity, and COPD.

         The ALJ found that plaintiff had the RFC to do light work, which requires lifting up to 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. He was able to stand/walk or sit for 6 out of 8 hours a day. He was limited frequent climbing of stairs; no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; and occasional exposure to extreme temperatures, humidity, fumes, odors, dusts, and poor ventilation.

         Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not able to do his past relevant work. However, he was not disabled because he 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 ...


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