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Tanya T. v. Saul

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

October 15, 2019

Tanya T., Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          Jeffrey Cummings, Magistrate Judge

         Claimant, Tanya T. (“Claimant”) brings a motion for summary judgment to reverse the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying Claimant's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income under 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423(d) of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The Commissioner brings a cross-motion for summary judgment seeking to uphold its decision to deny benefits. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(c). This Court has jurisdiction to hear this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§405(g) and 1382(c)(3). For the reasons stated below, Claimant's motion for summary judgment to reverse the final decision of the Commissioner [12] is granted, and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment [19] is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On November 10, 2014, Claimant filed a Title II Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIBs”) and a Title XVI Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) application alleging a disability onset date of November 15, 2012. (R. 68-69.) On her Disability Determination Explanation, Claimant had the following identified impairments: organic mental disorders (chronic brain syndrome) (severe); hearing loss not treated with cochlear implantation (severe); and affective disorders (non-severe). (R. 49.) Her claim was denied initially on April 23, 2015, and again upon reconsideration on August 15, 2015. (R. 68-69, 108-12.) Claimant filed a hearing request on October 13, 2015 pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §404.929 et seq. (R. 117-18.) On January 11, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Claimant's claims for DIBs and SSI. (R. 8-19.) Claimant appealed to the Appeals Council, but her request for review was denied on May 7, 2018, at which time the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1-5); Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 883 (7th Cir. 2001). Claimant subsequently filed this action in the District Court.

         B. Claimant's Medical and Employment History

         In 1979, when Claimant was thirteen years old, she was involved in a tragic car accident that caused her to suffer a severe head injury and resulted in the deaths of her stepfather and sister. (R. 271.) Claimant was in a coma for approximately two weeks and placed on a respirator, and she also suffered a stroke and seizure. (R. 271, 287.)

         Claimant went to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for outpatient visits in the early years following her accident. (R. 271-76.) Her hearing loss was documented initially, but it was not until her 1981 exam that she was noted to have problems learning as well as with auditory memory and comprehension. (R. 271-73.) A psychology report dated August 8, 1981 documents that her parents were “concerned over an apparent pattern of mixed cognitive assets and deficits.” (R. 275.)

         Claimant underwent hearing examinations with audiologist Dr. Robert Beiter and at The Hearing Place over the years. (R. 307-14.) Dr. Beiter conducted an exam on December 9, 1999, and documented moderate sensorineural hearing loss in the left ear, a moderate rising to normal hearing in the right ear, and a sensitivity to higher frequencies. (R. 310.) On September 18, 2000, Dr. Beiter wrote a letter stating that he had been treating Claimant's hearing loss since 1989. (R. 277.) He categorized her hearing loss as moderately severe sensorineural loss bilaterally. (Id.) Although she used her hearing aids, Dr. Beiter found that her overall hearing, specifically in a background noise environment, was significantly compromised. (Id.) According to Dr. Beiter, Claimant met the eligibility requirements for her application for persons with disabilities because she was considered communicatively handicapped. (Id.)

         A neuropsychological evaluation was performed on May 22 and June 19, 2002 by Drs. Jerry Sweet and John King. (R. 278.) Claimant had requested the evaluation to identify the current status and diagnosis related to her traumatic brain injury. (Id.) She was described as pleasant and cooperative, but she also presented as somewhat tangential and provided she scattered information at times. (Id.) Overall, Drs. Sweet and King opined that Claimant was at the low average range of intellectual abilities. (R. 282-83.) Although Claimant had these longstanding difficulties, it was noted that she was able to earn her Bachelor's degree and two Master's degrees (Spanish and Library Sciences); therefore, she was found to have compensated for her neuropsychological deficits quite well in some respects. (R. 283.) In the recommendations, it was documented that she qualified to be considered disabled from work given her deficits in logical reasoning, attention to visual detail, verbal and non-verbal abstract reasoning, sustained attention, cognitive efficiency, executive functioning, and written and oral arithmetic. (R. 283-84.) Drs. Sweet and King also opined that Claimant likely needed assistance with money management and financial planning. (R. 284.)

         On July 17, 2002, Claimant underwent an MRI that revealed an appearance consistent with chronic encephalomalacia, which correlates with the history of prior head trauma. (R. 285.) Dr. Robert Kohn authored a progress note on August 15, 2002. (R. 287-90.) At the time of the evaluation, Claimant was noted to be only recently obtaining an “understanding of her trouble with anxiety awareness and attention.” (R. 287.) Her neurologic exam was essentially unremarkable, and her mental status exam revealed an anxious individual with a tangential thought process. (R. 289.) Dr. Kohn observed that Claimant had prominent spatial attentional boundaries in regard to conversation pragmatics. (R. 290.) Dr. Kohn included his impressions that Claimant had an anxiety disorder and cognitive disorder, and he referred her to rehabilitation. (Id.)

         Dr. Linda Laatsch documented the results from tests perform on August 27, 2003 at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation. (R. 301.) Specifically, she noted that Claimant's visual attention for details was low average and not impaired; visual scanning with distraction was low average and not impaired; visual memory for designs was low average and within the high range for new sets of designs; visual scanning and accuracy was average; and that her problem solving was inconsistent. (Id.) Dr. Laatsch found a “nice improvement in [Claimant's] attention to memory of visual material.” (Id.)

         Claimant worked as a library shelver from 1998-2012. (R. 208.) She stopped working on November 15, 2012 when she was fired after a misunderstanding with one of her co-workers. (R. 207, 223.) According to Claimant, she got along with her fellow co-workers and the main reason she applied for disability was because of the financial restrictions that resulted from her termination. (Id.) In her Function Report, Claimant wrote that her conditions did not limit her ability to work. (R. 215.) In a letter accompanying her Function Report, Claimant explained that her disability did not “start” on November 15, 2012, but that it instead began on April 10, 1979 (the date of the accident). (R. 224.)

         On March 25, 2013, Dr. Beiter wrote a letter stating that Claimant's binaural hearing aids substantially improved her functional hearing in most situations and that the most difficult listening situations for her involved background noise and using the telephone. (R. 307.) An audiological report from October 9, 2014 identified ...

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