United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
VICTORIA HALL, ex. rel. J.H., a minor, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge.
Victoria Hall filed this action on behalf of her minor son,
J.H., seeking reversal of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1381 et.
seq. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the
United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the
reasons stated below, the case is remanded for further
proceedings consistent with this Opinion.
THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
recover Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a claimant must
establish that he or she is disabled within the meaning of
the Act. York v. Massanari, 155 F.Supp.2d 973,
976-77 (N.D. Ill. 2001). “A child qualifies as disabled
and therefore may be eligible for SSI if he has a
‘medically determinable physical or mental impairment,
which results in marked and severe functional
limitations' and the impairment ‘has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months.'” Hopgood ex rel. L.G. v.
Astrue, 578 F.3d 696, 699 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting 42
U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i)).
Social Security Administration (SSA) employs a three-step
analysis to decide whether a child meets this definition. 20
C.F.R. § 416.924(a). First, if the child is engaged in
substantial gainful activity, his or her claim is denied.
Id. Second, if the child does not have a medically
severe impairment or combination of impairments, then his or
her claim is denied. Id. Finally, the child's
impairments must meet, or be functionally equivalent, to any
of the Listings of Impairments (Listings) contained in 20 CFR
pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. Id. To find an impairment
functionally equivalent to one in the Listings, an ALJ must
analyze its severity in six age-appropriate categories:
“(i) acquiring and using information; (ii) attending
and completing tasks; (iii) interacting and relating with
others; (iv) moving about and manipulating objects; (v)
caring for yourself; and (vi) health and physical well-being.
Id. § 416.926a(b)(1). To functionally equal the
Listings, the ALJ must find an “extreme”
limitation in one category or a “marked”
limitation in two categories. An “extreme”
limitation occurs when the impairment interferes very
seriously with the child's ability to independently
initiate, sustain or complete activities. Id. §
416.926a(e)(3)(i). A “marked” limitation is one
which interferes seriously with the child's ability to
independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.
Id. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i).
October 29, 2012, Victoria Hall filed an application for SSI
on behalf of her minor child, J.H., who was born on October
1, 2007, alleging that he became disabled on June 1, 2012.
(R. at 143-48). The application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration, after which Ms. Hall filed a timely request
for a hearing. (Id. at 55- 65, 67-79, 94-98). On
July 28, 2015, J.H. and Ms. Hall, unrepresented by counsel,
testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ). (Id. at 30-54).
September 25, 2015, the ALJ denied J.H.'s request for
benefits. (R. at 12-25). Applying the three-step sequential
evaluation process, the ALJ found at step one that J.H. has
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 29,
2012, his application date. (Id. at 15). At step
two, the ALJ found that J.H.'s affective disorder and
anxiety disorder are severe impairments. (Id.). The
ALJ also found that J.H.'s asthma and attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are nonsevere impairments.
(Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that J.H.
does not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that meet or medically equal the severity of any of the
Listings. (Id.). Specifically, the ALJ concluded
that J.H. does not meet or medically equal either Listing
103.03 or Listing 112.04. (Id.). The ALJ then
determined that J.H. does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that functionally equal
the severity of any of the Listings. (Id. at 15-25).
In making this determination, the ALJ heavily relied on the
opinion of the state agency physician on reconsideration,
James Hinchen, M.D., who found that J.H. has a marked
limitation in interacting and relating to others, but less
than marked limitations in all of the other five functional
equivalency domains. (Id. at 18-19, (citing
id. at 67-79)).
Appeals Council denied J.H.'s request for review on April
14, 2016. (R. at 1- 6). J.H. now seeks judicial review of the
ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the
Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558,
561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of the Commissioner's final decision is authorized
by § 405(g) of the SSA. In reviewing this decision, the
Court may not engage in its own analysis of whether the
plaintiff is severely impaired as defined by the Social
Security Regulations. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d
995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Nor may it “reweigh
evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, decide questions
of credibility, or, in general, substitute [its] own judgment
for that of the Commissioner.” Id. The
Court's task is “limited to determining whether the
ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial
evidence.” Id. (citing § 405(g)).
Evidence is considered substantial “if a reasonable
person would accept it as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d
470, 473 (7th Cir. 2004); see Moore v. Colvin, 743
F.3d 1118, 1120-21 (7th Cir. 2014) (“We will uphold the
ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial
evidence, that is, such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.”) (citation omitted). “Substantial
evidence must be more than a scintilla but may be less than a
preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d
836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). “In addition to relying on
substantial evidence, the ALJ must also explain his analysis
of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit
meaningful appellate review.” Briscoe ex rel.
Taylor v. Barn-hart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005).
this Court accords great deference to the ALJ's
determination, it “must do more than merely rubber
stamp the ALJ's decision.” Scott v.
Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation
omitted). “This deferential standard of review is
weighted in favor of upholding the ALJ's decision, but it
does not mean that we scour the record for supportive
evidence or rack our brains for reasons to uphold the
ALJ's decision. Rather, the ALJ must identify the
relevant evidence and build a ‘logical bridge'
between that evidence and the ultimate determination.”
Moon v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 718, 721 (7th Cir. 2014).
Where the Commissioner's decision “lacks
evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent
meaningful review, the case must be remanded.”
Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir.
RELEVANT MEDICAL EVIDENCE
was born on October 1, 2007, and was four years old as of the
alleged onset date and seven years old at the time of the
hearing. (R. at 39, 55). He lives with his mother, older
brother, and younger sister. (Id. at 39). He was
entering second grade at the time of the hearing.
(Id. at 40). J.H.'s behavioral and mental health
issues were first documented in the record on January 9,
2013, when J.H. was evaluated by Penny Caldwell, M.S.W.,
L.C.S.W. at Gilead Behavioral Services. (Id. at
240-49). After conducting a clinical evaluation and a mental
status exam, Ms. Caldwell diagnosed J.H. with depressive
disorder, PTSD, and ADHD, and recommended weekly individual
January 10, 2013, Latrice McFarland, J.H.'s preschool
teacher of four months, completed a Teacher Questionnaire
regarding J.H.'s functioning in each of the six childhood
functional domains. (R. at 204-11). In the second domain of
attending and completing tasks, Ms. McFarland indicated
obvious problems in 2 of the 13 activities and a slight
problem in 1 of the 13 activities. She elaborated that J.H.
“does not look at you when being spoken to. He follows
single step directions but has difficulty with multi step