United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
ANNETTE GANTNER, ex. rel. J.J., a minor, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge.
Annette Gantner filed this action on behalf of minor, J.J.,
seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security denying his application for Supplemental
Security Income (SSI) 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.
26, 2013, an application for SSI was filed on behalf of a
minor child, J.J., by his legal guardian, Annette Gantner.
(R. at 153-58). J.J. was born on November 13, 2003 and his
application alleged that he became disabled on November 13,
2003. (Id. at 153). The application was denied
initially and upon reconsideration, after which Ms. Gantner
filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 20).
On May 13, 2015, J.J. and Ms. Gantner testified at a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at
5, 2015, the ALJ denied J.H.'s request for benefits. (R.
at 20-33). Applying the three-step sequential evaluation
process, the ALJ found at step one that J.J. has not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since his application date.
At step two, the ALJ found that J.J.'s speech and
language delay is a severe impairment. At step three, the ALJ
determined that J.J. does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the
severity of any of the Listings of Impairments (Listings).
The ALJ then determined that J.J. does not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that functionally equal the
severity of any of the Listings.
November 16, 2016, the Appeals Council denied J.J.'s
request for review. (R. at 1-4). J.J. 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
under 42 U.S.C. 405(g). On review, 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. 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). “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). The ALJ must “explain his
analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to
permit meaningful appellate review.” Briscoe ex
rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir.
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). “[T]he 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).
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)). To decide whether a child
meets this definition, the Social Security Administration
(SSA) employs a three-step analysis. 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 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).
raises four arguments in support of his request for reversal
of the ALJ's determination that he is not disabled: (1)
the ALJ failed to properly consider his teachers'
reports; (2) the ALJ failed to weigh the opinion evidence as
required; (3) the ALJ failed to properly assess the
credibility of J.J. and Ms. Gantner; and (4) the ALJ's
domain findings lacked support in the record. (Dkt. 18).
After reviewing the record and the parties' briefs, the
Court is persuaded that the reasons provided by the ALJ for
finding that J.J. had less than marked limitations in two
domains in particular-attending and completing tasks and
acquiring and using information- are legally insufficient and
not supported by substantial evidence. See Hopgood ex
rel. L.G., 578 F.3d at 697 (remanding where the ALJ
“made conclusory statements that contradicted the
evidence presented and failed to address portions of medical
and school records that were favorable to [the
child].”). The Court will discuss the ALJ's errors
regarding these two domains and will address J.J.'s
arguments regarding the teachers' reports and opinion
evidence. The Court need not address credibility.
The ALJ's Domain Finding in Attending and Completing
attending and completing tasks domain considers “how
well you are able to focus and maintain your attention, and
how well you begin, carry through, and finish your
activities, including the pace at which you perform
activities and the ease with which you change them.” 20
C.F.R. § 416.926a(h). Attention involves regulating
levels of alertness and initiating and maintaining
concentration; the ability to filter out distractions and
focus on an activity or task at a consistent level of
performance; focusing long enough to initiate and complete an
activity or task, and changing focus once it is completed;
and if you lose ...