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Hall ex. rel. J.H. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 24, 2017

VICTORIA HALL, ex. rel. J.H., a minor, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          MARY M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff 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.


         To 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)).

         The 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).


         On 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).

         On 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)).

         The 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).


         Judicial 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).

         Although 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. 2002).


         J.H. 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 therapy. (Id.).

         On 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 ...

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