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Clark v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

June 10, 2014

DIANE CLARK, for her minor child, J.W., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES F. HOLDERMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Diane Clark ("Ms. Clark") on behalf of her minor son, J.W., seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the Commissioner") denying J.W.'s claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C § 1614(a)(3)(C) (2012). On June 26, 2013, Ms. Clark filed a complaint (Dkt. No. 3) requesting summary reversal or remand under Sentence Six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

For the reasons set forth below, Ms. Clark's request for remand is granted and this case is returned to the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council (the "Council") for consideration. Because the Council must review new evidence, this court will neither comment on nor consider the merits of plaintiff's claims seeking summary reversal.

BACKGROUND

Ms. Clark filed an application for SSI disability benefits on behalf of her minor son, J.W., on February 21, 2010. (Dkt. No. 15, Trans. of Soc. Sec. Admin. R., the "SSA Record", Ex. 6 at 2.) Ms. Clark alleged that J.W. suffered from a learning disability as a result of exposure to heroin in utero, which had left him disabled as of September 15, 2009. (SSA Record, Ex. 6 at 137; Ex. 8 at 17, 36, 63.) J.W.'s application was denied initially on May 13, 2010 and upon reconsideration on July 30, 2010. (SSA Record, Ex. 5 at 5-6, 11-15.) Ms. Clark then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on October 17, 2011. (SSA Record, Ex. 3 at 37; Ex. 5 at 17.)

On January 6, 2012, the ALJ denied J.W.'s application for SSI benefits. (SSA Record, Ex. 3 at 32.) Ms. Clark requested review of the ALJ's decision, and the Council denied her request on April 17, 2013. (SSA Record, Ex. 3 at 3.) This made the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561 (7th Cir. 2009).

In denying Ms. Clark's request on behalf of J.W., the Council declined to review a revised individual education plan created on June 6, 2012 (the "June IEP") by the Hope Institute Learning Academy. (SSA Record, Ex. 3 at 3.) The Council reasoned the June IEP could not have affected the ALJ's decision, because the June IEP postdated the ALJ's decision. ( Id. ) The ALJ considered several prior iterations of J.W.'s individual education plan in making her determinations concerning J.W.'s condition. (SSA Record, Ex. 3 at 25.)

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. (2012), public schools are required to prepare an individual education plan ("IEP") for each disabled student to insure that all individuals have access to a "free appropriate public education". Id. §§ 1412(a)(1)(A), (a)(4). An IEP is a written statement describing a child's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, including how the child's disability affects the child's involvement and progress in the general education curriculum. Id. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(i). An IEP must be revised at least once a year to address: lack of progress towards annual goals, results of new evaluations, new information about the child, the child's anticipated needs, or other matters. Id. §§ 1414(d)(4)(A)(i-ii).

J.W.'s IEP was updated on an increasingly regular basis to address new circumstances as they arose. J.W.'s initial IEP was prepared in February 2010 and was subsequently revised on February 18, 2011, October 27, 2011, February 16, 2012, and June 5, 2012. (SSA Record, Ex. 3 at 25; Ex. 7. at 76; Ex. 9 at 6; Dkt. No. 21, the "Pl's Mem.", Ex. 1 at 11.)

The June IEP the Council rejected stated that it was a revision of the February 16, 2012 IEP (the "February IEP"). (Pl's Mem., Ex. 1 at 11.) Where the June IEP added information or made changes to the February IEP, it included the date, "06/05/2012". (Pl's Mem., Ex. 1 at 13-14.)

Significant portions of the June IEP were consequently taken from the February IEP. The February IEP considered developments in J.W.'s condition from October 27, 2011 to February 16, 2012. Because the ALJ made her decision on January 6, 2012, the majority of the February IEP covered J.W.'s condition before the ALJ's decision.

Even though the June IEP related back to the February IEP, and the February IEP concerned the period before the ALJ's decision, the Council rejected the June IEP. The council reasoned the June IEP could not have offered relevant information or affected the ALJ's decision, because it postdated the ALJ's decision. (SSA Record, Ex. 3 at 3.)

Ms. Clark, on behalf of J.W., filed her complaint (Dkt. No. 3) in this court on June 21, 2013, seeking summary reversal of the of the Commissioner's final decision or, in the alternative, remand for consideration of new evidence, specifically the June IEP.

LEGAL STANDARD

Finding an individual disabled is a factual finding best left in most instances to the assigned ALJ acting for the Commissioner. Campbell v. Shalala, 988 F.2d 741, 744 (7th Cir. 1993). However, if the claimant submits "new and material evidence" that, in addition to the evidence already considered by the ALJ, makes the ALJ's decision "contrary to the weight of the evidence" in the record, the Appeals Council will review a case. 20 C.F.R. § 404.970(b); see also Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 742 (7th Cir. 2005); Kapusta v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 94, 97 (7th Cir. 1989). A court on judicial appeal evaluates de novo whether the Appeals Council made an error of law in applying ...


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