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Terhaar v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

June 11, 2015

STEVEN TERHAAR Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

SUSAN E. COX, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Steven Terhaar ("Plaintiff") appeals the Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny his Supplemental Security Income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. We grant Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [dkt. 14] and deny the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment [dkt. 22]. The Administrative Law Judge's decision is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

STATEMENT

Plaintiff appeals the Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny him Supplemental Security Income Benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.[1] A motion for summary judgment has been filed on behalf of Plaintiff Steven Terhaar ("Plaintiff"). A motion for summary judgment has been filed on behalf of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). For the reasons outlined below, we grant Plaintiff's motion [dkt. 14] and deny the Commissioner's motion [dkt. 22]. The Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Plaintiff was entitled to supplemental security benefits based on disability as a child because of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD").[2] Plaintiff currently has bipolar disorder as well as ADHD.[3] The same counselor, Amy Coots-Smith, LCPC, has treated Plaintiff biweekly since October 2008.[4] Plaintiff had also been seeing his psychiatrist, Dr. Aamir Safdar, M.D., since October 2008.[5]

On June 16, 2010, the Social Security Administration notified Plaintiff that he was no longer eligible for Supplemental Security Income because he did not meet the eligibility requirements as an adult.[6] As of June 1, 2010, the Administration did not consider Plaintiff disabled anymore.[7] Upon reconsideration, the Administration upheld its decision that Plaintiff was no longer disabled, and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").[8]

In connection with the case, Ms. Coots-Smith indicated in a December 6, 2011 report that Plaintiff was not capable of working in a competitive job, and had marked limitations in all areas: concentration, persistence and pace; restriction in daily living; difficulties maintaining social functioning.[9] However, she had encouraged him to seek employment and facilitated discussions with Plaintiff and his parents regarding his desire to attend college.[10] In a March 8, 2012 report, Dr. Safdar opined that Plaintiff had a marked limitation with concentration, persistence and pace, but only moderate difficulties in the other two areas.[11]

On September 10, 2012, ALJ Roxanne Kelsey held a hearing in which Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified.[12] The ALJ gave the vocational expert a hypothetical that included a lack of ability to carry out detailed instructions but the ability to retain sustained concentration necessary for simple, routine work.[13] The vocational expert testified that given the Plaintiff's limitations, he could perform jobs such as warehouse worker, hand packager or kitchen helper.[14] Plaintiff testified that he was not attending community college and spent his time watching television, playing video games, and going for bike rides.[15] He also testified that he had trouble focusing and often had to rewind when watching television because he has trouble paying attention.[16] Additionally, two state agency consultants reviewed the record and reported that Plaintiff had moderate limitations in all categories, including concentration, persistence and pace.[17] They subsequently opined that Plaintiff could perform unskilled work.[18]

In the ALJ's findings after the hearing, she did not give controlling weight to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating mental health care providers, Dr. Safdar and Ms. Coots-Smith.[19] According to the ALJ, the opinions were inconsistent with the Plaintiff's own testimony that he taught himself to use Skype and played video games 4 to 5 hours a day.[20] The ALJ also found that the counselor's notes suggested less limitation than her report indicated, and that the counselor had encouraged Plaintiff to appeal the Administration's decision.[21] Instead, the ALJ gave great weight to the opinions of the two state agency consultants who reviewed the record.[22] Based on those opinions and the record, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had only moderate difficulties in social functioning, and could perform some jobs despite those limitations.[23] The ALJ also found that the Plaintiff's testimony was not fully credible or supportive of a finding of any greater limitations than the moderate difficulties assessed in determining job capability.[24]

Based on her determinations, the ALJ found that since June 1, 2010 (1) Plaintiff suffered from severe ADHD and bipolar affective disorder; (2) Plaintiff's impairments do not meet the severity of "the listings" in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (3) Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform work at the full range of exertional levels, but with limitations in retaining information, concentrating and being off-task 5% of the workday; and (4) there are jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that the Plaintiff can perform.[25]

On October 16, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's determinations.[26] The decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security in the case.[27] Plaintiff then brought this action for appeal under 42 U.S.C. ยง405(g).

DISCUSSION

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The ALJ's decision must be upheld if it follows the administrative procedure for determining whether the plaintiff is disabled as set forth in the Act, [28] if it is supported by substantial evidence, and if it is free of legal error.[29] Substantial evidence is "relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."[30] Although we review the ALJ's decision deferentially, she must nevertheless build a "logical ...


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