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Scott v. Barnhart

July 22, 2002

DARIUS SCOTT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 99 C 4651--Sidney I. Schenkier, Magistrate Judge.

Before Ripple, Diane P. Wood and Williams, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ripple, Circuit Judge

ARGUED FEBRUARY 11, 2002

Darius Scott, a minor, appeals the order of the district court *fn1 upholding the Social Security Administration's ("SSA") denial of his application for supplemental security income ("SSI") childhood benefits. More precisely, Darius submits that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who denied the application for benefits failed to articulate adequately the basis for the SSA's determination. For the reasons set forth in the following opinion, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand this case for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Gwendlyn Jones gave birth to Darius on August 29, 1990, in Chicago, Illinois. Throughout Darius' infancy and early childhood, Ms. Jones observed recurring problems in his behavior and development. In particular, her son suffered from erratic sleeping patterns, often resting for only four hours a day. He also possessed a short attention span and exhibited signs of overactivity. Moreover, based on her observations, Ms. Jones believed that Darius' language skills lagged behind those of his peers. On January 24, 1994, citing these difficulties in her son's development, Ms. Jones applied for SSI childhood benefits on behalf of Darius.

During the pendency of the application, Ms. Jones authorized physicians from the University of Chicago to conduct an extensive psychological examination of then three-and-a-half-year-old Darius. Over the course of eight visits between February and April 1994, Dr. Lauren Wakschlag and a colleague observed, interacted with and tested Darius. According to their observations, he never demonstrated any unusually high levels of activity for a child of his age. This observation led them to conclude that his behavior might result from environmental factors. However, although Darius frequently bore "a bright affect" throughout the evaluation, Dr. Wakschlag also noted that "[h]e spoke very little, with poor articulation, and appeared not to understand questions, nodding in response to such questions as, 'what's your name?' and 'what's that?'." Admin. R. at 99, Ex.16. Standardized tests corroborated this observation. In particular, Dr. Wakschlag administered the McCarthy Scales of Children's Ability Test ("McCarthy Test"). Designed to measure a child's developmental functioning, the McCarthy Test gauges various factors, including the child's quantitative, memory, language and motor skills. Although his overall scores indicated that Darius functioned in the "Borderline Range," *fn2 he yielded exceptionally low scores in the verbal, memory and quantitative components of the test. The physician, however, cautioned that Darius' "weakness in language significantly comprised [sic] his overall performance on the test making it difficult to understand many of the instructions." Admin. R. at 80, Ex.15. In particular, his language deficiencies may have deflated inaccurately his memory and quantitative scores. In conclusion, Dr. Wakschlag stated that Darius "exhibit[ed] significant delays in both receptive and expressive language skills," Admin. R. at 81, Ex.15, and diagnosed him as suffering from Developmental Expressive and Receptive Language Disorder. See Admin. R. at 101, Ex.16.

While the University of Chicago group evaluated Darius, a second physician, Dr. Virginia Bishop-Townsend of the Lake Shore Medical Center, performed a more limited review of his condition. During the thirty-two minute evaluation, Dr. Bishop-Townsend noted that Darius was extremely active, climbing about the room and demonstrating "little fear or respect for his mother." Admin. R. at 74, Ex.13. She ultimately concluded that he suffered from hyperactivity.

Shortly thereafter, the SSA requested that Dr. Carl Hermsmeyer, a psychologist, review Darius' medical files, including Dr. Bishop-Townsend's report, and assess the child's functional capacity. After examining these records, Dr. Hermsmeyer concurred in Dr. Bishop-Townsend's findings, but also noted that Darius possessed a moderate impairment in his personal behavior.

One year later, June 1995, Darius' mother requested that the University of Chicago group reevaluate her son. Dr. Jane Nofer, a clinical psychologist, and Dr. Catherine Lord, a professor of psychiatry, administered another battery of standardized tests to Darius. Four-and-a-half-year-old Darius again performed poorly on the verbal components of these examinations. For example, results from the Differential Abilities Scale ("DAS"), an intelligence test, yielded a verbal cluster score of 68 and a general cognitive score of 69, placing Darius "at the upper end of the mildly retarded range of intellectual functioning." Admin. R. at 111, Ex.18. Darius faired better on nonverbal components of the exam, placing him in the borderline range of intelligence with regard to these skills. Other tests produced similar results, *fn3 prompting the evaluator to conclude that Darius is a 4 ½ year old boy who is currently functioning at the upper end of the mild range of mental retardation. His nonverbal skills are slightly stronger than his verbal skills. Darius's difficulties with attention and impulsivity are clearly problematic, but I found him to be redirectable . . . . Admin. R. at 113, Ex.18.

B. Administrative and District Court Proceedings

1.

During January 1994, Ms. Jones, on behalf of Darius, submitted an application for SSI childhood benefits with the SSA. The administrative agency denied both Darius' initial application for benefits as well as his request for reconsideration. Invoking his right to further review, Darius requested and ultimately received a hearing before an ALJ during the spring of 1996. During these proceedings, Darius not only presented the testimony of his mother detailing his behavioral and language difficulties, but also tendered the 1994 and 1995 ...


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