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Hopgood ex rel LG v. Astrue

August 25, 2009

RHODA HOPGOOD, ON BEHALF OF LG, A MINOR, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 2:07-CV-671-PJG-Patricia J. Gorence, Magistrate Judge.

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

ARGUED MARCH 30, 2009

Before KANNE, WOOD, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

The mother of LG, a minor, applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") after LG's diagnosis with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD"). Following a hearing, the administrative law judge ("ALJ") denied benefits. In determining that LG was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and ineligible for SSI payments, the ALJ made conclusory statements that contradicted the evidence presented and failed to address portions of medical and school records that were favorable to LG. As a result, we conclude that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence, and we remand for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

Rhoda Hopgood filed an application in June 2004 for SSI on behalf of LG, her minor son, alleging disability due to ADHD. The SSI application was initially denied, and Ms. Hopgood sought a hearing. Testimony at the August 15, 2006 hearing and other evidence established that LG was born in 1990 and was diagnosed in 1997 with ADHD, which resulted in academic and behavioral problems. LG, who was 15 at the time of the hearing,*fn1 testified that he sometimes forgot to brush his hair and that his mother had to tell him to take a shower and brush his teeth. He also testified that he had difficulties in school and did not understand some of the work despite help from his teacher. LG stated that he some-times walked out of his classroom, wandered the halls, and received many suspensions and detentions from school for fighting. Finally, he mentioned that he fought with his sister, who was 12 at the time, broke drawers and hit doors when he became angry, and explained that the medication he took made him sleepy.

Ms. Hopgood testified that in the previous school year LG frequently had been suspended or had to serve detention for being disrespectful to teachers, fighting, and walking the halls. She further explained that in addition to having to remind LG daily to bathe and brush his teeth and hair, she also had to tell him to complete his weekly chores and that as a result LG talked back to her. She testified that police were called once when LG and his friends got into a fight with a group of other boys. As a result, LG received court-ordered community service, and he completed his service by performing maintenance at the Salvation Army where Ms. Hopgood worked. She also said that LG failed the fourth grade and that in the previous school year had brought homework home only two or three times. Ms. Hopgood testified that she always asked him about his homework and that when LG's explanations did not pan out, she monitored a progress report system created by his teachers until LG suddenly stopped bringing the reports home. Ms. Hopgood explained that LG had been taking Risperdal for more than a year, but that he remained off task at school until she brought this to the attention of his psychiatrist, who then increased his dosage to twice a day. She further stated that the Adderall LG had previously been prescribed made him act "like a zombie"-he would just sit in his room, watch television and sleep. Ms. Hopgood explained that LG was incapable of riding a city bus or going to the mall by himself.

Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision finding that LG suffered from ADHD, but was not disabled because his impairments did not meet, or medically or functionally equal, the criteria required under the Social Security Administration's Listing of Impairments. The ALJ also found the testimony of Ms. Hopgood to be "generally credible," but tending to show that LG was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review, leaving the ALJ decision as the final one of the Commissioner of Social Security. Ms. Hopgood sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and a magistrate judge, presiding by consent, upheld the denial of bene-fits. This appeal follows.

II. ANALYSIS

A. The ALJ's Determination was not Supported by Substantial Evidence

We reverse the Commissioner's final decision only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on a legal error. Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009). "An ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence if the ALJ identifies supporting evidence in the record and builds a logical bridge from that evidence to the conclusion." Giles ex rel. Giles v. Astrue, 483 F.3d 483, 486 (7th Cir. 2007). But if the decision "lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review," a remand is required. Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).

We begin our discussion with the ALJ's finding that LG's impairment is not functionally equivalent to the listing for ADHD. See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, § 112.11. A child qualifies as disabled and therefore may be eligible for SSI if he has a "medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations" and the impairment "has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." See 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). Whether a child meets this definition requires a three-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). First, if the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Social Security Administration ("SSA") will deny the claim. Id. Second, if the child does not have a severe medical impairment or combination of impairments, then he is not disabled and his claim will be denied. Id. Third, the child's impairments must meet a duration requirement and must meet, medically equal or function-ally equal, the severity of any of the Listings of Impairments contained in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1. Id.

At issue is whether LG's impairments functionally equaled the listings. To determine if an impairment is functionally equivalent to a listing, an ALJ analyzes the severity of the impairment in six domains:

(1) acquiring and using information; (2) attending and completing tasks; (3) interacting and relating with others; (4) moving about and manipulating objects; (5) caring for oneself; and (6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1). To functionally equal the listings, the ALJ must find an "extreme" limitation in one category or a "marked" limitation in two categories. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). A "marked" limitation exists when the impairment seriously interferes with the child's "ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities." 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). An "extreme" limitation exists when a child's ...


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