Rogers v. Barnhart

Decision Date01 August 2006
Docket NumberNo. 03 C 6818.,03 C 6818.
Citation446 F.Supp.2d 828
PartiesAnnie ROGERS, Plaintiff, v. Jo Anne B. BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois

Marcie E. Goldbloom, Daley, Debofsky & Bryant, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff. AUSA-SSA, Samuel D. Brooks, United

States Attorney's Office, Malinda Hamann, Office of the Chief Counsel, Chicago, IL, for Defendant.


JEFFREY COLE, United States Magistrate Judge.

This case involves a review of the final decision of the Commissioner ("Commissioner") of the Social Security Administration ("Agency") denying Ms. Rogers' application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). Ms. Rogers seeks a reversal and remand of the Commissioner's decision, while the Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision. For the following reasons, the plaintiff's motion is denied and the Commissioner's motion is granted.1


The system of judicial review carefully crafted by the Congress necessarily reposes substantial discretion in the administrative law judge to make the threshold determination of witness credibility and issues of fact and application of law to fact. Cf. Sarchet v. Chater, 78 F.3d 305, 308-309 (7th Cir.1996).2 In reviewing the opinions of an administrative law judge in granting or denying social security benefits, the question is always whether the decision of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence. If it is, the findings of the ALJ are "conclusive," and the decision must be affirmed. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion. A court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Social Security Administration. Resolution of conflicts in evidence is for the Commissioner. White v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 654 (7th Cir.2006).

But deference is not obeisance. In order for the court to affirm an ALJ's denial of benefits, the ALJ must have articulated the reasons for his decision and clearly expressed the reasoning process that led from the evidence to the ultimate conclusion. Cf 42 U.S.C. § 405(b); 20 C.F.R. 404.1527(d)(2), 416.927(d)(2).3 Requiring administrative law judges to explain their conclusions is a recognition that administrative law judges are not exempt from the requirement that applies to courts at all levels of the federal system, namely that judicial decisions should not be based on some ineffable intuition or unarticulated hunch. Cf. Henry M. Hart, Jr., Foreword: The Time Chart Of The Justices, 73 Harv.L.Rev. 84, 98-99 (1959)("In the end, however, ipse dixits are futile as instruments for the exercise of the judicial Power of the United States.'"); Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 123, 171, 71 S.Ct. 624, 95 L.Ed. 817 (1951)(Frankfurter, J., concurring)("The validity and moral authority of a conclusion largely depends on the mode by which it was reached.").4

In the instant case, the ALJ did precisely what the law mandated she do: In a careful, 20-page opinion, she meticulously reviewed and analyzed the wealth of medical evidence in the case—that which favored Ms. Rogers, as well as that which did not, Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir.1994)—and she carefully explained the reasoning that underlay her conclusions, including why she discounted the opinion of Ms. Roger's treating physician. There were no illogical or erroneous statements by the ALJ like those that have occurred in some cases and which demonstrated the invalidity (or absence) of reasoning by the ALJ. See, e.g., Sarchet, 78 F.3d at 306.5 The record in this case is more than adequate to allow a reviewing court to assess the overall validity of the ALJ's findings and the logical connection between the evidence and her conclusions and to afford the plaintiff a meaningful judicial review.

The same care and balance exhibited by the ALJ in evaluating the medical evidence was exercised by the ALJ in evaluating Ms. Rogers' credibility. Ms. Rogers testified that her noncompliance with her medical regimen stemmed from her lack of bus fare to go to the hospital to have her prescriptions refilled. This testimony bore on a significant issue: Failure to follow a prescribed course of remedial treatment without good cause can be grounds for denying an application for benefits, 20 C.F.R. § 416.930(a) and (b); Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1148 (8th Cir.2001); Kisling v. Chater, 105 F.3d 1255, 1257 (8th 1997), and can weigh against a claimant's credibility. Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 802 (8th Cir. 2005).

"[O]f course, the Administrative law judge did not have to believe" Ms. Rogers, Sarchet, 78 F.3d at 307, or accept her testimony at face value. Under the Social Security Act, administrative law judges are not inert and wooden participants in an empty ritual, the preordained end of which is to award benefits to those in distress, regardless of whether they qualify under the Act. The purpose of a social security hearing is to enable the ALJ to determine where the truth lies and to administer the Act in conformity with Congress's carefully crafted statutory framework. Administrative law judges are functionally comparable to Article III judges, Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S. 193, 201, 106 S.Ct. 496, 88 L.Ed.2d 507 (1985); Tennessee Student Assistance Corp. v. Hood, 541 U.S. 440, 457, 124 S.Ct. 1905, 158 L.Ed.2d 764 (2004), and thus, there is nothing inappropriate about an ALJ's questioning of a witness to gauge the truthfulness of testimony. Indeed, in the non-adversarial setting of a social security hearing there is no one else to perform that indispensable task, and questioning witnesses is consistent with and demanded by the ALJ's basic obligation to develop a full and fair record and to scrupulously and conscientiously explore all relevant facts that bear on the claimant's capacity to work or his or her entitlement to benefits. Cf. Heckler v. Campbell 461 U.S. 458, 103 S.Ct. 1952, 76 L.Ed.2d 66 (1983); Johnson v. Barnhart, 449 F.3d 804 (7th Cir.2006); Madrid v. Barnhart, 447 F.3d 788 (10th Cir.2006).6

Thus, the ALJ asked Ms. Rogers if she could have borrowed bus fare from a member of her family. This simple inquiry underlies the contention that the ALJ was insensitive to the plight of the poor and that she used Ms. Rogers' poverty against. (Plaintiff's Memorandum at 17).7 If true, the allegation could scarcely be more serious. If false, it could scarcely be more irresponsible. As discussed in greater detail below, the evidence would lead inexorably to the conclusion that Ms. Rogers' testimony was false and was designed to conceal her long-standing cocaine habit (R. 327, 403-417) so as to avoid potential application of the prohibitions against an award of benefits where a claimant has failed to follow medical treatment or where a claimed disability is linked to drug addiction. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(C). In short, far from demonstrating an insensitivity on the part of the ALJ to the plight of the poor, the record reveals a calculated attempt to deceive the ALJ.8

What is disturbing about the allegations against the ALJ are not their lack of merit. There is nothing unusual about lawyers including feckless arguments that actually detract from the presentation of the case. See, e.g., United States v. Mahoney, 247 F.3d 279, 282 (D.C.Cir.2001); Walker v. Abbott Laboratories, 416 F.3d 641, 643 (7th Cir.2005); Rehman v. Gonzales, 441 F.3d 506, 508-09 (7th Cir.2006). The more troubling aspect of the argument is its resort to the "ostrich-like tactic" of pretending that critical components of the record essentially do not exist. That tactic is as "unprofessional . . . [and] pointless" as ignoring potentially dispositive authority that is contrary to one's contentions. Hill v. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co., 814 F.2d 1192, 1198 (7th Cir.1987). Indeed, in some ways it is even more so.


Plaintiff has filed three applications for Supplemental Security Income. The first was denied after a hearing in September of 1996, and she did not seek review of that decision. (Administrative Record ("R.") at 22). In her second application, filed on September 17, 1999, the plaintiff claimed that he had been disabled since August 29, 1999, due to high blood pressure, bleeding ulcer, asthma, and arthritis. (R.150-51, 181). The Agency denied this application on November 4, 1999 (R. 115-118), and plaintiff chose not to seek reconsideration. Instead, she filed a third application on March 1, 2000. (R. 152-53).9 This application was denied at the both the initial level of administrative review (R. 119-22), and upon reconsideration. (R. 125-27). Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing. (R. 128-29).

On March 13, 2002, an administrative law judge conducted a hearing at which plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (R.45-111). In addition, Richard Hamersma testified as a vocational expert. (R. 45, 101-10). In a decision dated October 22, 2002, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled because she retained the ability to perform a range of unskilled, light work. (R.22-41). This became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff s request for review of the decision on August 7, 2003. .(R. 7-9). See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1455; 416.1481. Plaintiff has appealed that decision to the federal district court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).


The plaintiff was born on December 12, 1949. She was fifty-two years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 152). She is 5' 1" and weighs 176 pounds. (R. 345). She has a seventh-grade...

To continue reading

Request your trial
27 cases
  • Moore v. Astrue
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • April 3, 2012, woefully inaccurate, and, at worst, filled with misrepresentations. Her presentation is a reckless one, see Rogers v. Barnhart, 446 F.Supp.2d 828, 835 (N.D.Ill.2006) (“The more troubling aspect of the argument is its resort to the ‘ostrich-like tactic’ of pretending that critical comp......
  • Triplett v. Colvin, 12 C 4382
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • November 25, 2013
    ...course, lies and inconsistent statements provide a valid basis for finding a witness not credible."); Rogers v. Barnhart, 446 F.Supp.2d 828, 850-51 (N.D.Ill. 2006); Henke v. Astrue, 498 Fed.Appx. 636, 640, 2012 WL 6644201, *3 (7th Cir.2012); Long-Gang Lin v. Holder, 630 F.3d 536, 544 (7th C......
  • U.S. Dist. Court N. Dist. of Ind. Hammond Div. Theresa Thomas-Edwards v. Colvin
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana
    • September 24, 2014
    ...determining credibility. See Jones v. Astrue, NO. 11 C 3958, 2012 WL 4120417, at *8 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 18, 2012); Rogers v. Barnhart, 446 F. Supp. 2d 828, 856 (N.D. Ill. 2006). And, although the court in Sombright v. Astrue, found it appropriate for the ALJ to consider the plaintiff's failure......
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • April 6, 2011
    ...poverty was permissible as a basis for finding Ms. Sombright's allegations less than credible, we find the reliance on Rogers v, Barnhart, 446 F. Supp.2d 828, 834 (N.D. I11. 2006) to be inapposite (the court there did not find that the ALJ relied on evidence of poverty); and we find the cas......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • SSR 96-7p: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims: Assessing the Credibility of an Individual's Statements
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Social Security Disability Advocate's Handbook. Volume 1 - 2014 Contents
    • August 18, 2014
    ...Hill v. Norfolk & Western Ry., 814 F.2d 1192, 1198 (7th Cir. 1987). Indeed, in some ways it is even more so. Rogers v. Barnhart, 446 F. Supp. 2d 828 (N.D. Ill. 2006). §1007.1 The Credibility Evaluation and Finding Come After Record Development The prerequisite to adjudication of a credibili......
  • SSR 16-3P, superseding SSR 96-7p: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claimss (Effective March 28, 2016)
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Social Security Disability Advocate's Handbook Content
    • May 4, 2020
    ...Hill v. Norfolk & Western Ry ., 814 F.2d 1192, 1198 (7th Cir. 1987). Indeed, in some ways it is even more so. Rogers v. Barnhart , 446 F. Supp. 2d 828 (N.D. Ill. 2006). §1007.1 The Credibility Evaluation and Finding Come After Record Development The prerequisite to adjudication of a credibi......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT