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Robert L. Smith v. Michael J. Astrue

May 22, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez


This action was brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Robert Smith's claim for Title XVI supplemental security income. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons that follow, Smith's motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 17] is granted in part and denied in part. The Court finds that this matter should be remanded to the Commissioner of Social Security for further proceedings.



Plaintiff Robert Smith ("Plaintiff," "Claimant," or "Smith") originally filed an application for supplemental security income on May 8, 2007. (R. 38.) Plaintiff's claim was denied initially, and again upon reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. (Id.) Plaintiff timely filed a written request for a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on January 28, 2008. (Id.) On November 5, 2008, Plaintiff personally appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) Plaintiff waived his right to representation. (Id.)

On January 27, 2009, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim and found him "not disabled" under the Social Security Act. (Id. at 41.) On March 9, 2010, the Appeals Council denied Smith's request for review. (R. 10.) The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), and became reviewable by the District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), see Haynes v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005). After receiving an extension of time to file a civil action, (R. 1), Plaintiff filed the instant motion on September 26, 2011. [Doc. No. 17.] This matter has been fully briefed since February 15, 2012. [Doc. No. 26.]


A. Smith's Reports & Testimony

Smith was born on December 24, 1965, and was forty-two years old on May 8, 2007, the date on which he claims his disability period began. (R. 82.) Smith claims that he has schizophrenia and that the condition limits his ability to work. (R. 105.)

In his Activities of Daily Living Questionnaire, Plaintiff reported that he lives with his mother, and that his mother cooks his meals. (R. 123.) In response to the question, "[h]ow many meals a day do you eat?" Plaintiff responded, "1 Times." (Id.) Plaintiff reported that he does cleaning chores everyday, and that he does not do any shopping. (Id.) He indicated that his condition has affected his bathing, hair care or dressing, and reported that he takes Wellbutrin everyday. (R. 124.) He also reported that his mother reminds him to attend to his personal care, take his medicine and keep his appointments. (Id.) Smith explained that he has problems concentrating, thinking and finishing things that he starts. (Id.) He also explained that he is forgetful, that he hears voices and sees people who are not around, and that these hallucinations interfere with his activities. (Id.) In response to a request to describe this interference, Plaintiff reported, "[i]t hurt me." (Id.) Smith reported that he feels as if someone is watching or trying to harm him and explained that he is paranoid. (R. 125.) Smith also reported that he leaves home all the time when his family members come and get him. (Id.) He indicated that he visits family, visits friends, and keeps appointments, and that he usually walks or rides the bus. (Id.) Smith reported that he neither enjoys people nor likes to be around them "because they are watching" him. (Id.) He reported that he is afraid of people because "[t]hey are trying to hurt" him. (Id.) Smith also reported that he tends to get angry and fight with people "because they be laugh at me [and] talking about me." (Id.)

In his Work History Report, Smith reported that he has worked at Popeye's Chicken, Church's Chicken, and Harold's Chicken. (R. 128.) In a May 15, 2007 Disability Report, Smith "vehemently denied ever working." (R. 110.)

At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that he worked most recently in 1995 as a cook in a restaurant, and that he quit but did not remember why. (R. 21.) Plaintiff testified that he has been incarcerated six times for burglary. (R. 21-22.) Plaintiff reported that he gets headaches often. (R. 22-23.) The ALJ asked "[w]hat do you take [for the headaches]?" Plaintiff responded, "I'm a asthmatic." (R. 23.) The ALJ asked what medications Plaintiff took for the asthma, and Plaintiff said that he took albuterol. (R. 23-24.) The ALJ asked, "[d]o you take anything else besides albuterol?" Plaintiff said, "[y]es." The ALJ said, "[w]hat else?" Plaintiff said, "My statutory rape case, I forgot the name of it." (R. 24.)

Plaintiff testified that he hears voices that tell him to hurt himself. (R. 25.) Plaintiff testified that he has tried to commit suicide four times. (R. 26.) Plaintiff also testified that he has filled out several applications trying to get a job as a dishwasher. (R. 27.) Plaintiff said that he believed he could do the job and keep it, and that he would probably be able to go to work every day." (Id.) Plaintiff also testified that he babysits his nieces and nephews occasionally, but that he never takes care of them by himself because the children's parents do not trust him. (R. 28-29.) Plaintiff testified that when he watches a television show, he sits down and watches the entire program. (R. 31.) The ALJ queried whether the main problem Plaintiff was having involved crime and drinking. Plaintiff responded, "[i]t's not the, yes." (R. 32.)

B. Medical Evidence

1. Lawrence Correctional Center Records

A Mental Health Crisis Care report indicates that Plaintiff was placed on suicide watch on January 6, 2006 because he was "hearing voices to bang head against wall." (R. 341.) A Crisis Care Infirmary Admission Note indicates that Plaintiff was placed on "close supervision" because of his delusions, paranoia, and suicidal ideation. (R. 313.) On January 27, 2006, Dr. Andrew Kowalkowski reported that Plaintiff had a history of hearing voices. (R. 346.) Various progress notes and treatment notes indicate that Plaintiff experienced a variety of psychological problems, including involuntary body movements, (see, e.g., R. 320), paranoia and psychosis, (see, e.g., 168), and anxiety and major depressive disorder. (R. 358.) The records from ...

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