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Hernandez v. Colvin

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

September 25, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


YOUNG B. KIM, Magistrate Judge.

Amanda Hernandez claims that she is disabled by a combination of depression, anxiety, and a learning disorder. In this suit Hernandez challenges a final decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and social security income ("SSI"), see 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), 1381, et seq. Currently before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Hernandez's motion is granted, the Commissioner's is denied, and the case is remanded for further proceedings:

Procedural History

Hernandez filed her DIB and SSI applications in February 2010, claiming a disability onset date of January 1, 2005. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 116-126.) After her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, (id. at 72-76), Hernandez requested and was granted a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Before that hearing took place, Hernandez amended her alleged disability onset date to December 31, 2009. (Id. at 34-71, 248.) A month after the hearing, on December 22, 2011, the assigned ALJ denied Hernandez's applications for benefits. (Id. at 29.) The Appeals Council declined review, (id. at 5-7), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner, see Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 707 (7th Cir. 2013). After seeking and receiving an extension of time to file a suit seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision, (A.R. 1), Hernandez filed her federal complaint on March 13, 2013, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have consented to this court's jurisdiction. (R. 15); see 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).


Hernandez was just shy of her 25th birthday when she appeared before the ALJ to describe her struggles with chronic depression, anxiety, and a learning disability that negatively impacts her ability to read. She presented the ALJ with high school records documenting her reading deficits, attendance problems, and persistent behavior issues. (A.R. 265-67, 290-93.) Those records document her trouble following directions, controlling her temper, completing tasks, and accepting responsibility for her negative behavior. (Id.) At the hearing, Hernandez also presented medical records and her own testimony in support of her claims.

A. Medical Records

Hernandez's medical records begin with a psychological report completed in January 2008 by clinical psychologist Linda Kuntner, Psy.D., who evaluated Hernandez on behalf of the Division of Rehabilitation Services. (A.R. 316-20.) Dr. Kuntner described Hernandez as being neatly groomed and polite, but noted that she started crying when asked about her self-image and depression. (Id. at 317.) Dr. Kuntner's testing revealed that Hernandez reads at a grade equivalent of 1.6, which was indicative of "a severe reading disorder." (Id. at 317, 319.) She also found that Hernandez showed signs of depression and anxiety, especially in social situations. (Id. at 318.) In summarizing her conclusions, Dr. Kuntner noted that "Hernandez is a young woman of borderline intellectual abilities who has a severe learning disability which affects many aspects of her life including her ability to obtain and maintain employment." (Id. at 320.)

In April 2010 clinical psychologist Gregory Rudolph, Ph.D., evaluated Hernandez at the behest of the Bureau of Developmental Disabilities Services. (Id. at 321-24.) After examining Hernandez for 35 minutes Dr. Rudolph noted that she had a history of depression, anxiety, anxiety attacks, and vegetative symptoms. (Id. at 322-23.) In his opinion, Hernandez was able to use judgment and had an appropriate memory and affect, but was depressed with a subdued mood level. (Id. at 323.)

Three days later Hernandez underwent yet another psychological evaluation, this time with clinical psychologist Mary Alice Povolny, Ph.D. (Id. at 379-82.) During a round of cognitive testing, Dr. Povolny observed that Hernandez was working hard but started crying when the questions became difficult for her. (Id. at 381.) She recommended that Hernandez undergo a psychiatric evaluation to see if medication or therapy could help address her depression and self-esteem issues stemming from her learning disability. (Id. at 382.) Dr. Povolny opined that Hernandez would need to "avoid jobs that require reading and comprehending." (Id.)

The following month, consultant Jerrold Heinrich, Ph.D., completed a psychiatric residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment based on his review of Hernandez's medical file. (Id. at 330-47.) He acknowledged that Hernandez exhibits depression, anxiety disorder, and antisocial behavior, but concluded that those impairments cause only mild restrictions in her activities of daily living and social functioning, and moderate difficulties in her ability to maintain "concentration, persistence, or pace." (Id. at 333-37, 340.) In particular he checked boxes rating Hernandez as moderately limited in her ability to understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions and in her ability to respond appropriately to workplace changes. (Id. at 344-45.)

From June 2010 through April 2011 Hernandez received treatment from Lisa Fields, a physician assistant. In her initial notes Fields observed that Hernandez was depressed, unable to cope, and experiencing suicidal thoughts. (Id. at 372.) Fields diagnosed her with major depression, and because Hernandez was pregnant at the time, Fields recommended she stop taking Prozac. (Id.) By March 2011 Hernandez was no longer pregnant but still feeling suicidal, so Fields restarted her Prozac prescription. (Id. at 373.) The following month Fields noted that her depression had improved, although she was still feeling tired, staying in her house, and engaging in less activity. (Id. at 374-75.)

In May 2011 Hernandez had an initial psychological assessment with psychiatrist Dr. Beth Fraum, who characterized her as "passively suicidal." (Id. at 359, 362.) Hernandez told her that she was so depressed she struggled to get out of bed, and spent a lot of time sleeping and crying. (Id. at 359.) She also reported that she had lost a temporary job because she often was too depressed to get out of bed and go to work. (Id. at 361.) Based on their initial conversation, Dr. Fraum referred Hernandez for in-patient treatment at a crisis care program. (Id. at 362.)

At the crisis care program Hernandez told her doctors that she was not able to function or take care of her children because she has no energy, cries easily, and sleeps all day. (Id. at 357.) She also was experiencing mood swings, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating and relaxing. (Id.) Hernandez was admitted for three nights in an attempt to stabilize her mood. (Id. at 365.) She was diagnosed with depression ...

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