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Leach v. Berryhill

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

May 25, 2018

CHRISTOPHER LEACH, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MATTHEW F. KENNELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Christopher Leach applied for supplemental social security income (SSI) benefits, claiming that he suffers from physical and mental impairments that prevent him from working. He now seeks judicial review of the denial of his application by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Leach's motion, denies the government's motion, and remands the case for further consideration.

         Background

         Leach applied for SSI on March 6, 2013, claiming a disability onset date of June 28, 2011. He stated that he suffered from degenerative disc disease, obesity, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, sleep apnea, hypothyroidism, and hand tremors.

         The SSA denied Leach's application on November 8, 2013 and again upon reconsideration on June 6, 2014. Leach then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Leach and his attorney attended the hearing, which was held on January 11, 2016. The ALJ heard testimony from Leach and Richard Fisher, a vocational expert. On April 7, 2016, the ALJ issued a finding that Leach is not disabled and is therefore ineligible for SSI.

         When the Appeals Council denied Leach's request for review on March 6, 2017, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. See Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 935 (7th Cir. 2015). Leach filed this lawsuit seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision, in accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both Leach and the Commissioner of Social Security have moved for summary judgment.

         The ALJ's decision

         In reaching his decision, the ALJ used the standard five-step analysis set forth in the Social Security regulations to determine whether an individual is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). At step one, the ALJ determined that Leach meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act. At step two, the ALJ found that Leach had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA) since his alleged disability onset date.

         At step three, the ALJ determined that Leach does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of the one of the impairments listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart B, Appendix 1. The listed impairments that the ALJ considered were major dysfunction of joints (1.02), disorders of the spine (1.04), affective disorders (12.04), and anxiety-related disorders (12.06). The ALJ also considered the unlisted condition of obesity and addressed whether an impairment in combination with obesity medically equaled a listing; he found none did.

         The ALJ first evaluated whether the severity of Leach's mental impairments related to 12.04 and 12.06 satisfied the "Paragraph B" criteria. To satisfy the Paragraph B criteria, the mental impairments must result in at least two of the following: marked restriction in activities of daily living; marked difficulty in maintaining social functioning; marked difficulty in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.

         The ALJ found that Leach has a mild restriction in activities of daily living, noting that he does not report any difficulty in maintaining his personal hygiene and that he appeared well-groomed at his psychological and psychiatric examinations. R. 24. The ALJ also stated that although Leach struggles to perform household chores, he attributes his difficulties to physical impairments rather than mental impairments. R. 24.

         The ALJ went on to find that Leach has mild difficulties in social functioning. He pointed to Leach's testimony that he spends time with others as well as mental health records that indicate he was cooperative and pleasant at examinations. R. 24.

         The ALJ found that Leach has moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace given his testimony that he has no difficulty in concentrating while he plays games, including video games. R. 24. The ALJ also noted that Leach reports difficulty in remembering to take his medication and that his attention and concentration were only fair at a mental status examination in October 2014. R. 24.

         The ALJ found no evidence in Leach's medical history of an extended episode of decompensation-a temporary increase in symptoms accompanied by a loss of ...


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