United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
February 26, 2015
SHEMEKIA GLOVER ex rel. R.D., a minor Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
SUSAN E. COX, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Shemekia Glover ex rel. R.D., a minor, brings this action seeking a reversal or remand of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision denying her claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA"). For the reasons set forth below, we grant the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [dkt. 20] and remand the case. Defendant's motion for summary judgment is denied [dkt. 24].
Plaintiff sought SSI disability benefits for her minor son, R.D., who was born on August 5, 2008. Beginning in 2010, plaintiff noticed a developmental delay in R.D. and had him receive weekly therapy in developmental and occupational speech. Plaintiff filed the application for SSI disability benefits on February 1, 2011 which was denied on May 6, 2011. Once R.D. reached the age of three on August 5, 2011, he was taken out of his weekly treatments per the Early Intervention program. Subsequently, R.D. attended a local pre-school until January of 2012 when the plaintiff pulled him out because of a conflict she had with the school.
Upon reconsideration of her denial, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an ALJ on June 27, 2012. In this hearing, the plaintiff testified that R.D. lived with her, his grandmother, and his uncle. R.D. was not attending school nor receiving treatment; plaintiff was looking into a different public pre-school for R.D. to attend in the fall of 2012. She also testified that R.D. had speech and language problems, a short attention span, anger issues, and trouble getting along with children of his age.
After the hearing, on July 12, 2012, the ALJ concluded that R.D. was not disabled within the meaning of the SSA. The ALJ found that R.D. had severe impairments of development delays in speech and language, sensory proceeding disorder, and obesity. The ALJ, however, concluded that R.D. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equals the severity of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. Consequently, the ALJ held that R.D. was not disabled under § 1614(a)(3)(C) of the SSA.
The Social Security Administration's Appeals Council denied further review, leaving the decision of the ALJ as the final decision of the Commissioner. Here, plaintiff makes several arguments as to why the ALJ's decision has to be remanded or reversed. We will focus on three of her arguments: the ALJ's failure to consider relevant evidence; the ALJ's failure to explain his conclusions based on evidence, and; the ALJ's insufficient credibility analysis. We find all three worthy of remand.
I. Failure to Consider an Entire Line of Evidence
We conclude that a remand is appropriate because the ALJ failed to consider an entire line of office treatment records such as reports from a licensed speech and language pathologist, a pediatrician, and a developmental therapist. These records, all of which support the plaintiff's case, were not discussed in the ALJ's opinion.
The ALJ does not have to discuss every piece of evidence, but he may not ignore an entire line of relevant evidence that could support the plaintiff. He may not analyze only the evidence supporting his ultimate conclusion while ignoring evidence to the contrary. Rather, he must "confront the evidence that does not support [his] conclusion and explain why that evidence was rejected." Medical evidence, especially, must be given substantial weight unless there are specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting it.
Specifically, the ALJ failed to consider an entire line of medical evidence that supports the plaintiff's case. The ALJ did not discuss a pathologist's report that recommended that R.D. receive speech and language therapy. Neither did the ALJ discuss a medical diagnostic report by pediatricians who identified that R.D. needed intervention for cognitive development because he had a short attention span and distractibility. Moreover, the ALJ did not review a developmental therapist's report which recommended that R.D. obtain intervention in cognitive development and communication development.
II. Failure to Explain Conclusions Based on Evidence
We also remand because the ALJ failed to adequately explain his conclusions based on evidence. In addition to considering the relevant evidence, the ALJ must build a "logical bridge" and adequately explain his conclusions based on evidence. He may not, for example, discuss evidence that supports the plaintiff but conclude otherwise without explanation.
In discussing the domain of "attending and completing tasks, " the ALJ noted that R.D. had impulse control issues and difficulty focusing. Yet, the ALJ concluded that these difficulties were a "less than marked limitation" without explaining how he came to that conclusion. Likewise, in the domain of "moving about and manipulating objects, " the ALJ identified that R.D. had slight problems moving his body and manipulating objects. Again, the ALJ concluded that these limitations were a "less than marked limitation" without explaining why these limitations did not rise to the level of marked limitation. Finally, in the domain of "caring for yourself, " the ALJ noted that R.D. was not potty trained at the age of four (without citing any evidence). Then his conclusion, again, lacked any explanation. Although the ALJ separately discussed and summarized some relevant evidence that could have supported these conclusions, it is unclear how the evidence and his conclusions connect.
III. Lack of Credibility Analysis
Finally, we remand because the ALJ failed to provide a credibility analysis of the plaintiff's testimony. More specifically, the ALJ rejected her testimony with a "boilerplate statement" and provided no analysis confronting or reconsidering the plaintiff's testimony.
Generally, we give special deference to the ALJ's credibility determinations unless it is patently wrong because the ALJ has the opportunity to observe the testimony of the plaintiff. The ALJ, however, "must explain [his credibility] decision in such a way that allows us to determine whether [he] reached [his] decision in a rational manner." He must confront the plaintiff's testimony and discuss why and how he reached his conclusions to the contrary. The use of a "boilerplate statement" in determining the plaintiff's credibility without such analysis has been repeatedly criticized by the Seventh Circuit.
Here, the ALJ used a "boilerplate statement" and did not subsequently explain his reasons for rejecting the plaintiff's testimony. There is some discussion of medical evidence and treatment records, which are contrary to the plaintiff's testimony, but the reasoning of the ALJ's credibility analysis is, at best, implicit and not sufficient. The ALJ neither confronts the plaintiff's testimony nor provides an analysis discussing inconsistencies between the evidence and plaintiff's testimony. Accordingly, we do not find that the ALJ conducted a sufficient credibility analysis.
Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is, therefore, granted [dkt.20] and the defendant's motion for summary judgment is hereby denied [dkt. 24]. We remand the case for further analysis by the ALJ.