United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
CARLTON A. BROWN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the U.S. Social Security Administration,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER 
I. Schenkier, Magistrate Judge
Carlton A. Brown ("plaintiff or "Mr. Brown")
has filed a motion for summary judgment seeking reversal or
remand of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security ("Commissioner") denying his claim for
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") (doc. # 15:
PL's Mot. for Sum. J.). The Commissioner has filed her
own motion seeking affirmance of the decision denying
benefits (doc. # 26: Def's Mot. for Sum. J.). For the
following reasons, Mr. Brown's motion for remand is
granted and the Commissioner's motion is denied.
October 15, 2012, Mr. Brown applied for SSI, claiming an
onset date of October 1, 2010 (R. 130, 149). His application
was denied initially on November 28, 2012 (R. 85), and upon
reconsideration on May 24, 2013 (R. 109). On May 31, 2013,
Mr. Brown filed a request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") (R. 112).
hearing before an ALJ was held on June 10, 2014 (R. 33). At
the hearing, Mr. Brown's attorney amended the alleged
onset date to July 24, 2013 (R. 36). Plaintiff, represented by
counsel, a medical expert, and a vocational expert all
testified at the hearing (R. 33). On June 30, 2014, the ALJ
ruled that plaintiff was not disabled, and plaintiff appealed
(R. 17, 28). The Appeals Counsel denied plaintiffs request
for review on September 10, 2015, making the ALJ's
determination the final opinion of the Commissioner (R. 1-4).
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Varga v.
Colvin, 794 F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 2015).
Brown contends that the ALJ's determination that he is
not disabled should be reversed because the ALJ erroneously:
(1) dismissed the opinion of plaintiffs treating
psychiatrist; (2) analyzed whether plaintiffs mental
impairments meet or equal a listing level; (3) made a
negative credibility finding; and (4) accepted the VE's
testimony regarding other available work (doc. # 16: PL's
Mem. In Supp. of Sum. J. at 4-5). The Court finds that the
ALJ erred by inadequately supporting his decision to give
little weight to the medical opinion of plaintiffs treating
psychiatrist, Dr. Berman, as set forth in his Mental Residual
Functional Capacity Statement ("Mental RFC") (R.
27). On that basis, we grant plaintiffs motion, without
reaching the merits of plaintiffs other arguments. See
Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734, 741 (7th Cir. 2011)
(ALJ's improper consideration of treating physicians'
opinions is "enough to require us to remand ... [and]
[w]e therefore needn't decide whether the reasons the ALJ
gave in support of her adverse credibility finding ... were
so 'patently wrong' as to separately require
summarize the administrative record. As the Court bases its
decision to remand on the ALJ's analysis of plaintiffs
mental health issues, we will generally address only those
parts of the record relevant to that issue. We set forth
general background in Part A, followed by an abbreviated
review of the medical record in Part B. In Part C, we discuss
the hearing testimony and, in Part D, we address the
ALJ's written opinion.
Brown was born on October 16, 1966 (R. 145). At the time of
the hearing, he was forty-seven years old, weighed 200
pounds, and was 5' 9" tall (R. 40). He is a high
school graduate, and is single (R. 41, 203). Plaintiff
previously worked as a janitor and as an assembly line
factory worker (R. 173). At the time of the hearing in June
2014, plaintiff was homeless and had been living at a shelter
for nine months (R. 41). He previously lived with his mother,
but he moved into the shelter when she died (R. 48).
Brown originally filed for benefits alleging solely physical
ailments, including bad knees (R. 149). Plaintiff received
one consultative examination, an internal medicine
consultation performed by Dante Pimentel, M.D., on March 28,
2013 (R. 202-208). After taking a history and performing an
examination, Dr. Pimentel diagnosed Mr. Brown with internal
derangement of his knees and right shoulder, gout, and a
lipoma on the right scapula (R. 205). Dr. Pimentel opined
that plaintiffs ability to lift, carry, and carry out
work-related activities is mildly impaired due to his
internal shoulder derangement (Id.).
17, 2013, Mr. Brown checked into the emergency department at
Advocate Trinity Hospital ("Trinity ER"). Plaintiff
presented with suicidal ideation and depression, and stated
that he was hearing voices telling him to hurt himself (R.
341). Plaintiff reported that the symptoms had been occurring
for the past twelve weeks but were getting worse
(Id.), The Trinity ER transferred plaintiff to
Chicago Lakeshore Hospital's psychiatric facility
("CLH Psychiatric") for a psychological evaluation
(R. 341, 343). Mr. Brown received inpatient treatment at CLH
Psychiatric under Dr. Paisner, and was discharged from the
facility on July 22, 2013 (R. 509). At the time of discharge,
plaintiff was prescribed aftercare treatment for depression;
a discharge letter from CLH Psychiatric, dated June 22, 2013,
stated that Mr. Brown "will be continuing treatment in
an outpatient capacity" (R. 506, 509). A follow-up
appointment was made to see Dr. Paisner on August 7, 2013 (R.
507); there is no evidence in the record indicating whether
Mr. Brown attended that appointment.
October 18, 2013, Mr. Brown was again hospitalized for six
days at CLH Psychiatric due to severe depression, acute
psychoses and suicidal ideations, and was discharged on
October 23, 2013 (R. 222, 235). At discharge, plaintiff was
prescribed medication and aftercare treatment for depression
and psychosis (R. 222). As part of his discharge, an
appointment was made for the next morning for follow-up
treatment at Community Counseling Centers of Chicago
("Community Counseling") (Id.). At his
intake appointment with Community Counseling on October 24,
Mr. Brown exhibited the following symptoms: anger, anxiety,
confusion/difficulty understanding, crying, current auditory
and visual hallucinations, high energy, panic attacks and
paranoia (R. 231). Plaintiff was listed as taking Xanax (a
sedative used to treat anxiety and panic attacks) and Prozac
(Id.). Mr. Brown was diagnosed with mood
disorder, psychotic disorder, cocaine and opioid abuse in
partial remission, antisocial personality disorder, seizure
disorder and hypertension; he was assigned a Global
Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 50
(Id.). The intake assessment further noted that Mr.
Brown has a "serious impairment" in social and
occupational functioning, and "significant impairment in
an important area of life functioning as a result of his
mental disorders (R. 233). Plaintiff was scheduled for a
psychiatric evaluation with a psychiatrist, Valentin Berman,
M.D. (R. 241).
Brown was first seen by Dr. Berman on November 26, 2013 (R.
245). At this appointment, plaintiffs affect was blunted, and
Dr. Berman noted that plaintiff was experiencing auditory
hallucinations and paranoid delusions (R. 250-251). Dr.
Berman prescribed Mr. Brown Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug,
2 mg qhs (R. 252). The record also contains
physician's notes from Mr. Brown's subsequent
appointments with Dr. Berman on December 17, 2013, and
January 10, February 4, February 25, and March 18, 2014 (R.
253-298). At his December 17, 2013 appointment, Mr. Brown
reported increased anxiety and an increase in hallucinations
(R. 253). Dr. Berman opined that plaintiffs psychotic
disorder problem was worsening and changed his prescription
to Seroquel, a different type of antipsychotic drug, at a
dosage of 200 mg qhs (R. 258-259). At Mr. Brown's later
visits, Dr. Berman noted that plaintiff was doing better but
still experienced hallucinations (R 261, 269, 278, 285). At
the January 10, 2014 appointment, Dr. Berman increased the
Seroquel dosage to 400 mg qhs and, at the February 4
appointment, Dr. Berman increased the Seroquel dosage to 600
mg qhs (R. 267, 275).
Berman submitted a Mental RFC to the SSA, dated May 21, 2014,
regarding plaintiffs functioning in the areas of social
interaction, sustained understanding and memory, sustained
concentration and memory, and adaption in a work setting (R.
518-521). In the Mental RFC, Dr. Berman diagnosed plaintiff
with mood disorder, psychosis, and opioid and cocaine abuse
in remission and assigned him assigned a GAF score of
"65/75" (R. 518). In 20 different areas, Dr. Berman
rated Mr. Brown's mental ability to "function
independently, appropriately, effectively and on a sustained,
consistent, useful and routine basis, without direct
supervision or undue interruptions or distractions - 8 hours
per day, 5 days per week - in a regular, competitive work
setting for more than six consecutive months" (R.
518-520). For each area, Dr. Berman assessed the extent to
which plaintiffs mental disorders affected his performance in
an eight-hour workday (Id.). Dr. Berman found four
areas in which plaintiffs mental disorders did not preclude
his performance at all, including his ability to carry out
"very short and simple instructions;" three areas
in which plaintiffs mental disorders precluded his
performance for only five percent of the workday, ...