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Johnson v. Astrue

September 30, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Young B. Kim United States Magistrate Judge

Magistrate Judge Young B. Kim


Before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff Angela Johnson ("Johnson") seeks supplemental security income ("SSI") child's benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C), on behalf of K.J., her minor son. Johnson claims that K.J. is disabled by a combination of a learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, behavior disorder, and depression. The Commissioner of Social Security issued a final decision denying her claims, and Johnson appeals. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c). For the following reasons, Johnson's motion for summary judgment is denied and the Commissioner's motion is granted.

Procedural History

Johnson filed an application for SSI on K.J.'s behalf in November 2006, claiming that K.J. had become disabled on October 1, 2005. (A.R. 49.) After the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied her claim initially and on reconsideration, (id. at 50-52, 56-59), Johnson was granted a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), (id. at 23- 47). On December 29, 2008, the ALJ denied Johnson's claims. (Id. at 11-22.) The Appeals Council denied Johnson's request for review, (id. at 1-3), at which point the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, see Schmidt v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 833, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Johnson then filed the current suit seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

Legal Framework

The social security disability benefit program allows low-income parents of disabled children to access benefits designed for disabled workers-the rationale being that parenting a disabled child "may limit the amount of productive work that the parents can do, inflicting hardship on families of limited means." Sanchez v. Barnhart, 467 F.3d 1081, 1082 (7th Cir. 2006). A child is considered disabled if he has a "physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and . . . which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §1382c(a)(3)(C)(i).

Because "disabled children generally do not have a work history," their SSI claims are considered under a framework distinct from that used for adults. Sanchez, 467 F.3d at1082. The first two steps are the same: the ALJ asks whether the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity (if so, the claim is denied) and whether he has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments (if not, the claim is denied). See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924; Murphy v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2007). Next, the ALJ asks whether the child's impairment meets, or is medically or functionally equal to, one of the listings set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See Murphy, 496 F.3d at 633. To determine whether an impairment functionally equals a listing, the ALJ evaluates the severity of its impact in six domains of functioning: (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(a), (b)(1). Functional equivalence exists where the ALJ finds that the child has a marked limitation "in two domains of functioning or an extreme limitation in one." Murphy, 496 F.3d at 633; 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). A marked limitation interferes seriously-and an extreme limitation, "very seriously"-with a child's "ability to initiate, sustain, or complete activities." 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)-(3); Patino v. Astrue, 574 F. Supp. 2d 862, 869 (N.D. Ill. 2008).


K.J. was born on August 7, 1994, and at the time of the hearing he was a 13 year-old eighth grader living in Joliet, Illinois with his mother, sister, and nephew. (Id. at 27, 30, 48.) K.J. had been diagnosed with depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), and a learning disability, and he had a long history of academic and behavioral problems.

A. School and Psychological Records

K.J.'s school records from his seventh-grade year show that he was failing almost all of his classes. (A.R. 440-41.) K.J.'s teacher noted that his behavior in class was "horrible" and stated that his "behavior is affecting his grades." (Id. at 440.) In January 2007 K.J. was referred to Dr. John Brauer, a clinical psychologist, for a mental status examination. (A.R. 444-46.) Dr. Brauer noted that K.J. attended weekly counseling at the Will County Health Department to address his behavioral issues and took medications for depression and ADHD. (Id. at 444.) Dr. Brauer noted that K.J.'s hygiene, vocabulary, and "general fund of knowledge" were "poor," and his reading level was "quite poor." (Id. at 445-46.) Dr. Bauer conducted psychological tests that showed K.J. to be "in the low average range of cognitive functioning." (Id. at 446.)

In February 2007 K.J. underwent a psychological assessment with Karen Smith at the Will County Health Department. Smith interviewed Johnson, who reported that K.J. hides dirty dishes and garbage around their home and had been wetting the bed for about two years. (A.R. 531.) Johnson reported that K.J. does not necessarily shower on a daily basis and has an ongoing hygiene problem. (Id. at 532-33.) K.J. told Smith that when he is in trouble or when people yell at him he had transient thoughts of suicide, but denied ever trying to hurt himself. (Id. at 533.) Smith administered cognitive tests which showed that K.J. has a low-average IQ and below grade-level skills in a number of academic subjects. (Id. at 534-35.) She noted that K.J.'s "deficits in academics likely reflect years of inattention." (Id. at 537.)

She predicted that his academics would advance with special education services and that his behavior should improve "once he is placed in the ...

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