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Johnson v. Berryhill

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

September 14, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Jeffrey Cole, Magistrate Judge

         Jamika Talley seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner (“Commissioner”) of the Social Security Administration (“Agency”) denying her son, Cameron's application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). Ms. Talley asks the court to reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision, while the Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision.



         Ms. Talley applied for SSI on behalf of Cameron on February 28, 2011, just two weeks after he was born. Cameron weighed just one pound, eleven ounces at birth, and also suffered from hydrocephalus. (Administrative Record (R.) 105). Cameron was granted disability benefits on May 11, 2011. (R. 71, 105). The Administration reviewed Cameron's case a couple of years later and determined that his disability ceased as of February 20, 2013, and that his benefits would be terminated as of April 30, 2013. (R. 72). Ms. Talley requested reconsideration of this determination and, when that was unsuccessful, an administrative hearing.

         An administrative law judge (“ALJ”) convened a hearing on April 23, 2015, at which Ms. Talley and her son's caregiver, Michelle Walker[1], appeared and testified. (R. 40-70). Ms. Talley and her son were not represented by counsel.[2] On June 22, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Cameron was no longer disabled as of February 20, 2013. Although Cameron suffered from multiple, severe impairments - speech impairment, hydrocephalus, borderline intellectual functioning, and pervasive development disorder - he no longer had an impairment or combination of impairments resulting in either marked limitations in two domains of functioning or and extreme limitation in one domain of functioning. (R. 10-21). The ALJ determined that Cameron had a marked limitation in acquiring and using information, no limitation in attending and completing tasks, less than a marked limitation in interacting with others, less that a marked limitation in moving about and manipulating objects, no limitation in caring for himself, and less than a marked limitation in health and physical well-being. (R. 19-21). The ALJ's decision then became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Ms. Talley's request for review of the decision on January 24, 2017. (R. 1-6). See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955; 404.981. Ms. Talley has appealed that decision to the federal district court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).




         Medical Evidence

         The record in this case comes in at just over 1600 pages, but the vast majority of it plays no role in the ALJ's decision and, instead, pertains to Cameron's condition and treatment before the ALJ's cessation date of February 20, 2013. The ALJ's discussion of the evidence begins with a report regarding Cameron's ability to walk and balance in December of 2012. The ALJ stated that [Cameron] could walk as he approached his second birthday.” (R. 17). The report actually indicated that, at age 22 months, he was making progress, and could squat and pick up toys without losing his balance on most occasions. He was able to stop walking without falling on most occasions, and could negotiate a 2-inch obstacle about half the time. (R. 1322). He was saying a few words on his own, could imitate a greeting, but was unable to ask for toys. (R. 1324).

         Cameron had a consultative examination with Dr. Luella Bangura, on February 12, 2013, the day before his second birthday. The doctor noted that Cameron had been seeing a pediatrician, a physical therapist, and a developmental therapist. He was not on any medication, but had had brain surgery in 2011 and shunt placement in 2012. Cameron was 33 inches tall and weighed 25 pounds. The shunt had caused some problems with his right eye movements, and the Dr. Bangura noted that it deviated toward the right, but that ocular movements were intact and visual fields were normal. Dr. Bangura said that gait and station were appropriate, but also noted that Cameron fell and lost his balance. Motor strength, reflexes, sensation, grip strength, and manual dexterity were deemed normal. (R. 1397-98).

         Cameron had a speech and language evaluation with Kimberly A. Kirk, M.A., on March 14, 2013. Cameron was unable to put two words together and had a limited vocabulary for his age. He was unable to follow simple one-step commands, even with verbal and visual cues. His speech was essentially unintelligible. He communicated primarily by pointing. Ms. Kirk administered the Preschool Language Scale, and determined that Cameron's auditory comprehension was in just the 1st percentile, expressive communication was at the 6th percentile, and total language was at the 1st percentile. (R. 1400-04). Cameron was uncooperative and could not complete the Goldman-Fristoe Test of Articulation 2. (R. 1410).

         A week later, Dr. Wilson reviewed Cameron's file on behalf of the state agency. He indicated the file was insufficient because there had not yet been a Bayley exam. (R. 1422, 1427). However, based on Cameron's recent speech and language evaluation with Dr. Kirk, Dr. Wilson opined that Cameron had a marked limitation in using and acquiring information. While all but 5% of Cameron's speech was unintelligible, the doctor oddly concluded his speech imposed “less than a marked limitation” on his ability to interact with others. (R. 1424). He thought Cameron had no limitation in moving about or manipulating objects, but indicated, again, that a Bayley exam was needed. (R. 1425). He gave no opinion as to Cameron's limitations in the area of caring for oneself or attending and completing tasks. (R. 1424-25).

         A few months later, in July 2013, Cameron had another consultative examination with Michele C. Thorne, Ph.D. Dr. Thorne noted that Cameron ran around the waiting room and played with a ball. He was curious about his surroundings and engaged in social smiling and interacted with her. Dr. Thome administered the Bayley Scales of Infant Development. The results indicated that, in the cognitive domain, Cameron was in the bottom five percent. In the language domain, he was in the bottom three percent, and he was in the bottom sixteen percent in motor functioning. Cameron fared even more poorly in the social-emotional domain and the adaptive behavior domain, where he scored in just the bottom 0.1 percent. Dr. Thorne said these scores were consistent with her observations during the session. The conceptual composite score was also in the lowest 0.1 percent, while Cameron's social composite score was in the lowest one percent. His practical composite score, which was a gauge of a child's ability to engage in leisure activities and self-care, was in the bottom 0.2 percent. (R. 1461-62).

         With the Bayley exam now in the file, Dr. Steven Roush performed a review on July 23, 2013. The doctor seemingly accepted the Bayley results for the acquiring and using information domain, finding a marked limitation. He seemingly rejected the test for the social domain, where Cameron had scored in the bottom one percent, and found Cameron had a less than marked limitation. He echoed Dr. Wilson's assessment from prior to the Bayley exam - he seemed to copy it exactly - that Cameron's unintelligible speech didn't hinder his ability to interact with others to any significant degree. (R. 1467). The doctor found no limitation at all in moving about and manipulating ...

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