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Bloyer v. Colvin

United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Western Division

January 6, 2015

LISA BLOYER, o/b/o W.B., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Iain D. Johnston United States Magistrate Judge

This is a social security appeal. For the reasons explained below, the case is remanded.

BACKGROUND

W.B. was born on April 1, 1997. R. 117. In the first grade, he began receiving special education services for learning disabilities. R. 46. In the summer of 2008, W.B. began seeing a psychologist, Dan Griffith, who saw W.B. over the next year and performed various tests. He ruled out autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but diagnosed W.B. with sensory modulation disorder, a learning disorder, and an anxiety disorder. R. 46.

In 2010, W.B. was reassessed for his Individualized Education Program (IEP). He was evaluated by Dr. John Suter (a school psychologist), Dala Utech (an educational diagnostician), Susan Kelley (school social worker), and some of his teachers. R. 46-47. They noted that W.B. had poor reading, math, and writing skills; problems with peer relationships; problems concentrating and completing work; and problems with organization and time management. R. 47. Although he was in the seventh grade, he was reading at a fourth grade level and writing at a second grade level. R. 48.

In January 2011, W.B. was again assessed by school officials because of problems at school. A psychologist, Mark Langgut, examined W.B. and issued a report, concluding that W.B. had a dysthymic disorder, a learning disorder, and an auditory processing disorder. R. 49. Later in 2011, W.B.’s mother decided to homeschool him because W.B. was afraid of going to school and was struggling despite receiving special education services. R. 15. In the fall of 2011, psychologist David Wakely diagnosed W.B. with panic disorder. R. 356-357. W.B. began taking Zoloft which helped relieve some anxiety symptoms. R. 366.

After W.B.’s social security application was denied initially, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on July 23, 2012. W.B. and his mother testified. On August 3, 2012, the ALJ issued a 17-page decision finding W.B. was not disabled.

Applying the three-step process used to determine if an individual under 18 years of age is disabled (20 C.F.R. 416.924(a)), the ALJ first found that W.B. had severe impairments, including an anxiety disorder, a sensory modulation disorder; a dysthymic disorder; a learning disorder; and morbid obesity. R. 41-43. At step two, the ALJ concluded that these impairments did not meet a listed impairment. Id. Relevant to this appeal, the ALJ concluded that W.B.’s anxiety disorder and sensory modulation disorder did not meet the listing for anxiety disorders, under Section 112.06. At the third step, the ALJ assessed whether W.B.’s impairments functionally equaled a listing. R. 44. As required by the regulations, the ALJ assessed W.B. in each of six domains. R. 41. To functionally equal a listing, a claimant’s impairments must result in “marked” limitations in at least two domains or an “extreme” limitation in one. R. 41 (citing 20 C.F.R. 416.926a(d)). The ALJ found that W.B. had a “marked” limitation only in the domain of “interacting and relating with others.” R. 52-53.

DISCUSSION

A reviewing court may enter judgment “affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the [Commissioner], with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner’s factual findings are conclusive. Id. Substantial evidence exists if there is enough evidence that would allow a reasonable mind to determine that the decision’s conclusion is supportable. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 399-401 (1971). Accordingly, the reviewing court cannot displace the decision by reconsidering facts or evidence, or by making independent credibility determinations. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). However, the Seventh Circuit has emphasized that review is not merely a rubber stamp. Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (a “mere scintilla” is not substantial evidence). If the Commissioner’s decision lacks evidentiary support or adequate discussion, then the court must remand the matter. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir. 2009).

In this appeal, W.B. argues that the ALJ failed to explain why W.B.’s impairments did not meet the listing for “anxiety disorders” and also why he did not have a “marked” limitation in the domain “attending and completing tasks.” This Court agrees with both arguments.

Section 112.06 sets forth the requirements for “Anxiety Disorders.” Although it contains multiple parts, the relevant issue here is whether W.B. qualifies based on a “persistent irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation which results in a compelling desire to avoid the dreaded object, activity, or situation.” In this case, the specific feared object is school. To support his claim, W.B. relies on evidence from his doctors and teachers. See Pl. Mem. at 3, 6. His mother began homeschooling him in 2011 because of his anxiety about school. Also in 2011, Dr. Wakely diagnosed him with panic disorder.

This Court need not sort through this evidence because the ALJ never analyzed any of it. In concluding that W.B.’s anxiety did not meet this listing requirement, the ALJ merely quoted the language of Section 112.06 in one long sentence. See R. 43 (last paragraph). She provided no analysis and did not address the “fear of school” argument. This Court therefore cannot assess the ALJ’s reasoning. On this basis alone, a remand is warranted.

Plaintiff’s second argument also justifies a remand. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to sufficiently explain why W.B. did not have a “marked” limitation in the domain of “attending and ...


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