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Bauer v. Astrue

August 11, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge


Minor Sean Martin Bauer ("Sean"), by his mother and next friend Erynn Bauer ("Bauer"), seeks judicial review pursuant to Social Security Act ("Act") §405(g)*fn1 of the final decision of Commissioner of Social Security Michael Astrue ("Commissioner") that denied Sean's claim for supplemental security income ("SSI") disability benefits. Both parties have moved for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56, and Bauer has alternatively moved to remand for further proceedings. For the reasons stated here, both Rule 56 motions are denied, but Bauer's alternative motion to remand is granted.

Standard of Review and Applicable Law

This Court reviews the ALJ's decision as Commissioner's final decision, reviewing the legal conclusions de novo (Haynes v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005)). Because factual determinations receive deferential review, courts may not "reweigh the evidence or substitute [their] own judgment for that of the ALJ" and will affirm Commissioner's decision "if it is supported by substantial evidence" (id.). But as Haynes, id. further explains, "the ALJ must build a logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion." Hence "[i]f the Commissioner's decision lacks adequate discussion of the issues, it will be remanded" (Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561 (7th Cir. 2009)).

To be found disabled, a child must meet or equal (either medically or functionally) the elements of an impairment listed in Appendix ("App'x") 1 to the Act's implementing regulations (see Reg. §416.924). Those regulations create a multistep analysis for determining disability:

1. Commissioner must find that the child was not performing substantial gainful activity (Reg. §416.924(b)).

2. Commissioner must then determine that the child has a severe impairment or combination of impairments (Reg. §416.924(c)).

3. With a "yes" answer at step 2, the next step is to determine whether the impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in App'x 1 (Reg. §416.924(d)).

If all three steps have produced "yes" answers, that spells disability. But if the answer at step 3 is "no," all of the listings must be considered to decide whether the child's functional limitations are equal in severity to the functional limitations in any listings (Reg. §416.924(a)).

That degree of severity requires that the child have "marked" limitations in two domains of functioning or an extreme limitation in one domain (Reg. §416.926a(a)).*fn2 "Marked" limitations "interfere[ ] seriously" and "extreme" limitations "interfere[ ] very seriously" with "[the] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities" (Reg. §§416.926a(e)(2) and (3)). If Commissioner finds that the child meets either standard, that alternative determination also means the child is disabled.

Procedural Background

On September 20, 2006 Bauer filed an application for SSI benefits on Sean's behalf, stating he had suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD") since March 2003 (R. 74, 133-38). That application was denied on January 9, 2007, and upon reconsideration it was again denied on June 20, 2007 (R. 75, 76, 84). Bauer then requested and received a hearing ("Hearing") on April 17, 2008 before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") John Kraybill (R. 88-89, 122-27). Represented by counsel, Sean testified during the Hearing, as did Bauer and Dr. Kathleen O'Brien, a licensed clinical psychologist (R. 13, 59).*fn3

ALJ Kraybill's May 27, 2008 decision concluded that Sean was not disabled under the relevant statutes and regulations and was thus ineligible for SSI benefits (R. 13-24). That decision became Commissioner's once the Appeals Council denied Bauer's request for review on February 13, 2009 (R. 1-3). On April 13, 2009 Bauer filed a timely complaint for judicial review.

Factual Background

Sean was born on March 10, 1996 (R. 16). At the time of the Hearing he was 12 years old and in sixth grade at the School of Expressive Arts and Learning ("Expressive Arts")(R. 28-29).

Medical and School History

Sean's mental health history includes diagnoses of ADHD, anxiety disorder, pervasive developmental disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, in addition to the identification of Asperger syndrome traits (R. 48, 936, 1037). Sean's medical history includes diagnoses of allergies, gastritis, von Willebrand disease (a bleeding disorder), compulsive overeating, hypogonadism and sleep apnea (R. 23, 47, 54, 58, 718, 737-39, 936, 1128-29).

Sean first began taking ADHD medication in first grade (R. 43). After expressing suicidal thoughts in February 2006, Sean was admitted to Children's Memorial Hospital ("Children's") in March 2006 (R. 43, 724, 936). In March 2007--after reportedly threatening to bring a gun to school--he entered the inpatient psychiatric unit at Children's and then attended the partial hospitalization program, with treatment focused on coping skills and expressing feelings (R. 936, 938, 942, 943).

Sean has also received ongoing individual and group therapy and psychiatric treatment at Children's, including individual sessions with licensed clinical social worker Marena Sabo ("Sabo") until February 2008 (R. 1025-55, 1072-75). Sabo observed improvement between December 2007 and February 2008: In December she noted severe symptoms of impulsivity and moderate symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and anxiety (R. 1073), while in a February evaluation ("Sabo Evaluation") she noted moderate symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity and mild symptoms of anger/explosivity and anxiety (R. 1053). Sean was also attending group therapy once a week (R. 57-58).

At the end of July 2007 Sean had begun seeing psychiatrist Dr. Myra Kamran on a monthly to bimonthly basis (R. 47-48, 1037). In February 2008 Dr. Kamran completed a questionnaire ("Kamran Questionnaire") describing Sean's diagnoses as pervasive developmental disorder, anxiety disorder and ADHD (R. 1037). Dr. Kamran opined that Sean exhibited symptoms that included impairment in impulse control, generalized persistent anxiety, persistent disturbances of mood or affect, seclusiveness or autistic thinking and maladaptive patterns of behavior (R. 1038). Dr. Kamran also opined that Sean exhibited marked limitations in four domains: (1) acquiring and using information, (2) attending and completing tasks, (3) interacting and relating with others and (4) caring for oneself (R. 1039-40).

Sean attended Emerson School ("Emerson") between 2001 and 2006, was briefly homeschooled in fourth grade, attended Lincoln School ("Lincoln") from 2006 to 2007 and was enrolled at Expressive Arts in 2007 (R. 42-43, 232-33). Emerson records show that he was below grade level in reading and writing, that he received speech therapy and extra assistance with reading and that his ...

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