United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER 
I. SCHENKIER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Tyron Hampton has moved for reversal and/or remand of the
Commissioner's decision denying his applications for a
closed period of Social Security benefits (doc. # 17:
Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J.). The Commissioner has filed a
cross-motion asking the Court to affirm its decision (doc. #
24: Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J.). We find that the
Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ")
determination that Mr. Hampton's substance abuse disorder
during the closed period was a contributing factor material
to the determination of disability was supported by
substantial evidence. However, due to an evidentiary gap
regarding the percentage of time Mr. Hampton would have been
off-task during a workday, we grant Mr. Hampton's motion
to remand and deny the Commissioner's motion to affirm.
Hampton applied for disability benefits on July 25, 2007,
alleging disability beginning on April 1, 2003 (R. 164-69,
170-71). After a hearing on August 13, 2010, the ALJ denied
benefits in a written decision, and the Appeals Council
denied review (R. 1-5, 19-34). Mr. Hampton filed a complaint
in federal district court on October 11, 2011, and on May 23,
2012, the Commissioner agreed to a reversal and remand of the
case (R. 647-48). In May 2013, the ALJ held a second hearing
(R. 517-638), and on June 7, 2013, Mr. Hampton amended his
disability onset date to July 1, 2008, and sought a closed
period of disability benefits from that date through December
31, 2011 (R. 524, 1198). On July 12, 2013, the ALJ issued an
opinion again denying plaintiffs claim for benefits (R.
Hampton sought review of this decision, and on October 24,
2014, the Appeals Council remanded the case to a new ALJ (R.
684-86). That ALJ held a hearing on March 25, 2015 (R.
618-38), and on August 10, 2015, issued a written decision
denying Mr. Hampton's claim. The ALJ found Mr. Hampton
was under a disability during the closed time period at
issue, but that a "substance abuse use disorder [wa]s a
contributing factor material to the determination of
disability" such that Mr, Hampton was not considered
disabled under the Social Security Act (the "Act")
(R. 491). The Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for
review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner (R. 1-6). See Cullinan v.
Berryhill, 878 F.3d 598, 603 (7th Cir. 2017).
Hampton was 40 years old when he applied for benefits in July
2007 (R. 51). He has been treated at the Hines VA Hospital
("Hines") for polysubstance abuse, depression, and
physical health issues since 2000 (R. 263-64). Mr. Hampton
was sober for "a long period" before resuming drug
use in 2007; this coincided with increased depression,
anxiety, hallucinations and paranoia (doc. # 18:
Pl.'s Mem. at 4). He was admitted to a substance abuse
treatment program at Hines in June 2007, and he stayed off
drugs for several months thereafter (R. 265-93, 366-400,
416-28). Mr. Hampton took Seroquel (quetiapine, an
anti-psychotic) and Zoloft (sertraline, an anti-depressant),
which made him feel less anxious (R. 335-37). However, during
a state agency mental health examination on October 30, 2007,
Mr. Hampton reported that he continued to experience
depression, paranoia, suicidal ideation and auditory
by June 2008, Mr. Hampton had resumed using heroin and
cocaine, and he had stopped taking anti-depressant medication
(R. 1188-89). Mr, Hampton re-entered the Hines substance
abuse treatment program, and his anti-depressant medications
were reinstated (Id.). On June 26, 2008, Luz
Cuaresma, M.D., the attending psychiatrist, noted that the
medication seemed to help alleviate Mr. Hampton's
depression (R. 1191-92).
Hampton did not seek substance abuse or psychiatric treatment
again at Hines until May 23, 2010. On that date, he was
admitted to Hines for detoxification from cocaine and heroin
abuse and treatment for depression, hallucinations, paranoia
and suicidal ideation (R. 1126-27, 1183-84). Mr. Hampton
reported that after his father died in the summer of 2008, he
stopped going to school and started using cocaine once a week
and heroin daily to self-medicate, rather than seek
prescriptions for anti-depressant or anti-psychotic
medication (R. 1122, 1131). He stated that the frequency and
magnitude of his psychotic symptoms were heightened while
using drugs, but that he also experienced them when sober (R.
1123, 1140). On May 28, 2010, Mr. Hampton was discharged with
prescriptions for Seroquel and sertraline, and with plans to
attend a substance abuse treatment program (R. 1124, 1136).
In June 2010, however, Mr. Hampton was a "consistent
no-show" for that program (R. 1134).
15, 2010, Mr. Hampton met with Dr. Cuaresma (R. 1111). Mr.
Hampton admitted to smoking heroin and cocaine multiple times
a week since being discharged from Hines in May 2010, and
reported dysthymic (depressed) mood, loss of interest and
appetite, social withdrawal and intermittent auditory
hallucinations (Id.). Mr. Hampton stated that he had
those symptoms even when he abstained from drugs
(Id.). Dr. Cuaresma diagnosed him with polysubstance
dependence and major depression with psychotic features,
increased his prescription for sertraline and continued his
prescription for Seroquel (R. 1111-12), On July 28, 2010, Mr.
Hampton reported difficulty sleeping, weight loss and
continued heroin use (R. 1107-08). Dr. Cuaresma decreased his
sertraline dose, continued Seroquel, and started him on
trazadone (anti-depressant and sedative) (Id.).
follow-up appointment with Dr, Cuaresma on August 9, 2010,
Mr. Hampton stated that he had improved appetite, less
depression, better sleep and some weight gain (R. 1106). Mr.
Hampton had no more delusions or hallucinations, but he had
some "thought broadcasting" (the idea that his
thoughts were being broadcast from his head to the external
world), for which Dr. Cuaresma increased his Seroquel dose
(Id.). Dr. Cuaresma also started Mr. Hampton on
mirtazapine (anti-depressant) (Id.). That day, Dr.
Cuaresma filled out a medical source statement, which
indicated that since July 2007, Mr. Hampton had been mildly
to moderately limited in understanding and memory, sustained
concentration and persistence, social interaction, and
adaptation abilities, and markedly limited in his ability to
maintain attention and concentration for extended periods (R.
474-76, 479). Dr. Cuaresma opined that Mr. Hampton had a
"substantial loss" in the ability to respond
appropriately to supervision and co-workers and in the
ability to deal with routine changes in the work setting (R.
477-78). The directions for the medical source
statement instructed the physician not to include any
limitations that he or she believed were the result of
substance addiction (R. 473). Three weeks later, on August
30, 2010, Mr. Hampton admitted to still using heroin (R.
September 9, 2010, Mr. Hampton underwent open heart surgery
(R. 933). The following month, Mr. Hampton returned to Hines
multiple times with complaints of chest pain, and at those
visits, he admitted he continued to use heroin and cocaine
(R. 916-19, 923). On November 8, 2010, Mr, Hampton appeared
non-depressed to Dr. Cuaresma and reported being sober from
drugs and alcohol (R. 909), but on December 20, 2010, Mr.
Hampton admitted to using heroin and cocaine regularly, and
he appeared mildly depressed (R. 902).
January 7, 2011, Mr. Hampton was admitted to a residential
inpatient substance abuse treatment program at Hines (R. 982,
988). His primary mental health care provider was Dheeraj
Raina, M.D., who started him on a drug detoxification program
with methadone (R. 980-81). Upon intake, Mr. Hampton reported
snorting heroin daily and last using cocaine two weeks prior,
but the intake sheet noted that "does not seem accurate
given positive cocaine on urine drug screen today" (R.
988). On January 10, 2011, Mr. Hampton denied any depressive
or psychotic symptoms since admission (Id.). On
January 15, 2011, Mr, Hampton left the facility on a
therapeutic day pass (R. 955). Upon his return, staff
suspected that he had taken illicit drugs (Id.). He
denied it, but his urine screening was positive for opiates
(R. 939-41). On January 21, 2011, Mr. Hampton was discharged
from the residential inpatient program (R. 941-42).
Hampton continued to use heroin until January 28, 2011, when
he entered a 28-day detoxification program at the Salvation
Army (R. 1099, 1102). In February 2011, he reported to
outpatient group counseling at Hines and to Dr. Cuaresma that
he was feeling good (R. 1096). Dr. Cuaresma refilled his
medications and noted that his mood and affect were normal
and he had no hallucinations or delusions (R. 1097).
Hampton asserts that "[o]ver the course of the year
, his functionality and his depressive symptoms slowly
improved as he received treatment, individual and group
counseling and therapy and medication" (Pl.'s Br. at
7). Mr. Hampton became a resident of the Salvation Army and
returned to outpatient substance abuse recovery treatment (R.
1090, 1094). He stayed sober and complied with his
medications (R. 1092-93). His sleep, appetite and mood
improved, and he had no delusions, hallucinations or suicidal
thoughts (R. 1084-85). Mr. Hampton still had occasional
thought broadcasting, but he "learned to live with
it" (Id.). During treatment, Mr. Hampton no
longer appeared depressed (R. 1035-36).
Hampton's success with sobriety dramatically -- and
positively - affected his daily life activities. Later in
2011, Mr. Hampton moved into his own apartment, participated
in vocational rehabilitation and began attending classes at
Roosevelt University (see, e.g., R. 1025, 1030-33,
1036-39). In October 2011, Mr. Hampton sought discharge from
the substance abuse treatment program because he remained
abstinent from substances and was doing well (R. 1028-29). At
a follow-up appointment on November 16, 2011, Dr. Cuaresma
observed that he had no depressive symptoms (R. 1025).
Mr. Hampton had persistent problems with concentration and
memory (R. 1084-85, 1064). In July 2011, Mr. Hampton
underwent a neuropsychology evaluation, which showed that he
had a mild cognitive impairment within the domains of
attention, working memory and higher order executive
functioning, secondary to his history of polysubstance
dependence and psychiatric issues (R. 1045).
December 20, 2011, Dr. Timothy Buckley became Mr.
Hampton's mental health provider at Hines (R. 1021). Dr.
Buckley began tapering Mr. Hampton off his psychotropic
medications (first mirtazapine, then Seroquel) because he
remained sober, his mood was stable with no current symptoms
of depression, and he was functioning well (R. 1021). Dr.
Buckley noted that Mr. Hampton's possible history of
bipolar mood disorder and mania was "not clearly
differentiated" from his history of drug use, and he
opined that Mr. Hampton's polysubstance abuse and major
depressive disorder were in remission (R. 1021-23). Mr.
Hampton retained his prescription for trazadone to help with
insomnia (R. 1013-14). By April 2012, Mr. Hampton continued
to function well; he was still attending college classes, and
he was working for the Illinois Department of Corrections
("IDOC") (R. 1009).
21, 2013, during the second hearing in this case, Mr. Hampton
testified that he had recently graduated from Roosevelt
University with a degree in hospitality and tourism
management (R. 526-27). He attended Alcoholics Anonymous
("AA") meetings, took medication for depression and
trazadone to help him sleep, and saw his psychologist
periodically (R. 527, 545, 554). Mr. Hampton testified that
he still heard "auditorial signals" from radio and
television, but he managed them (R. 537-38). In 2012, he had
a problem with an IDOC supervisor and was let go from his job
asked the vocational expert ("VE") to assume an
individual who could perform medium work with the following
non-exertional limitations: "unable to remember ... and
carry out detailed and complex job tasks ... not  suited
for work that requires intense focus and concentration for
extended periods and . . . only be able to have casual
interaction with the general public, as well as superficial
or casual contact with coworkers and occasionally be able to
set goals and make plans independently of others" (R.
561). The VE testified that individual would not be able to
perform Mr. Hampton's prior work, but a substantial
number of other jobs would be available, provided the
individual would be on task 90 percent of the time and miss
no more than one day of work per month (R. 562-64).
March 25, 2015, at his third ALJ hearing, Mr, Hampton
testified that he had not used illegal drugs since January
2011 (R. 625). He continued to take anti-depressant and
antipsychotic medication and trazadone; his depression and
auditory broadcasting had not stopped, but he could
"manage it better" (R. 625, 628, 631). Mr. Hampton
testified that if he had not been depressed between 2007 and
2011, he "would like to think" that he would have
been able to hold a job, "but [he] really do[es]n't
know" (R. 625-26). He "c[ould]n't say"
whether his depression had gotten better since he stopped
using cocaine and opiates, "[b]ut overall since 2011, ..
. since being off the dependency of drugs, yes, [his] life
[wa]s better" (R. 627-28). The ALJ asked the VE "if
an individual was to be off task 20 percent of the work