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Skorup v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

June 23, 2017

NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Michael Skorup appeals the Social Security Administration's decision to deny his application for Child's Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. An administrative law judge found that Skorup was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Because the ALJ did not sufficiently articulate her reasons for denying the application, I will remand the matter back to the ALJ.


         Skorup was 22 years old at the time of his hearing. [A.R. at 20.][1]. Throughout his life, he has suffered from several mental health issues, and has been diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder. [Id. at 42.] He was in special education through the majority of his schooling and never engaged in substantial gainful employment. [Id.] Between 2002 and 2011, he suffered a twelve point loss in IQ. [Id.]

         Throughout his life, Skorup has received treatment for mental health issues from a cascade of medical professionals. First, in 2001, Dr. Joyce Scully diagnosed the ten-year old Skorup with early onset Bipolar Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder. [Id. at 512-513]. Between March 2007 and February 2008, Skorup received mental health treatment at the Madison Center from Dr. Linda Finn, who identified “oppositional and defiant behavior” and “extreme reactive emotional/behavior reactions” in Skorup. [Id. at 296]. In 2010, at the Otis Bowen Center, Dr. Umamaheswara Kalpatapu diagnosed Skorup with Bipolar Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, noting that he would likely “require constant medication for the remainder of his life.” [Id. at 360.] ¶ 2011, Dr. Alan Wax conducted a clinical interview and diagnosed Skorup with Attention Deficit Disorder and assigned a GAF score of 50. [Id. at 425.] GAF stands for global assessment of functioning and it is a common scale used to measure psychological functioning of an individual. A score between 41 and 50 signifies “serious symptoms.” Over the years, Skorup's condition ebbed and flowed as medical practitioners sometimes identified improvements and sometimes identified regressions. [Id. at 398, 400, 408.]

         In a January 2013 examination, Dr. Cadwell identified improvement in Skorup, diagnosing him with a mood disorder not otherwise specified and a GAF score of 55, though Dr. Cadwell also identified “continued challenges in the home in terms of [Skorup] completing basic activities of daily living.” [Id. at 435-436.] Similarly, therapists identified fluctuating moods when examining Skorup, noting him one day as “mild, ” and “manic” on another. [Id. at 498, 500.] Indeed, on August 13, 2013, a therapist noted Skorup's mood and affect are “changeable and unpredictable, ” that “he will go from happy to upset to laughing in the course of a sentence.” [Id. at 506]. As of April 2013, Skorup was taking at least four medications: Abilify, Cogentin, Lamictal, and Trazodone. [Id. at 447.] It is clear that Skorup suffers from mental illness. But the issue before the ALJ was whether his maladies are severe enough to make him “disabled” for purposes of Social Security benefits.

         Skorup filed an application for Child's Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security income on December 3, 2012. [Id. at 18.] In both applications, Skorup alleged disability beginning on September 1, 1999. [Id.] On January 30, 2013, both claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration on April 19, 2013. [Id.]. Skorup filed a written request for a hearing at which he testified. [Id.] Andrew Skorup, the claimant's father, and Richard Riedl, a vocational expert, also testified. [Id.] The ALJ ultimately denied benefits in a written opinion. [Id. at 18-31.]

         At the hearing, Skorup testified that his mental health issues persist into the present day. Skorup testified that he has not applied for a job because he “can't pay attention long enough, ” “gets distracted easily, ” and can only pay attention to something for about five minutes. [Id. at 44-46.] Skorup further testified that his father has to remind him to take his medication and that he depends on his father to drive him because he “can't pay attention long enough” to get a driver's license. [Id. at 46-47.] He also testified that he can perform basic chores like doing laundry, but that he could not mow the lawn or use the stove without his father's supervision. [Id. at 49-50.] Skorup testified that he can help with babysitting and that he can fetch tools while his friends are doing wood work. [Id. at 57-58.] Skorup spends most of his day playing computer games and using Facebook, though he testified he does not know how write a full post on Facebook. [Id. at 54-55.]

         Skorup's dad confirmed much of what Skorup had to say. He told the ALJ that he has to supervise his son when he mows the lawn and that he has to remind him to take his medications and clean himself. [Id. at 59-60.] Further, he testified that his son does not actually babysit by himself and that the neighbors are home when his son helps out. He also testified that his son “never finished” any job he was hired to do, like raking leaves for the neighbors. [Id. at 61.]

         At the Step three of the familiar five step process used by the Social Security Administration, the ALJ concluded that Skorup has the following severe impairments: mood disorder, schizoaffective disorder, ADHD, and obesity. [Id. at 20.] But those impairments do not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. [Id.] The ALJ next determined that Skorup has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b). [Id. at 23.] And then, based on the RFC, the ALJ concluded that considering the Skorup's age, education, work experience, and residual funcational capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Skorup can perform and that a finding of “not disabled” is appropriate.


         In evaluating Skorup's arguments as to how the ALJ erred, I must keep in mind that judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited. If an ALJ's findings of fact are supported by “substantial evidence, ” then they must be sustained. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). This has also been described as sufficient evidence to form a “logical bridge” to the ALJ's conclusions. See, e.g., Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, the ALJ's reasoning must be sufficiently articulated to permit meaningful review. See Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002). “[W]hat matters are the reasons articulated by the ALJ.” Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 812 (7th Cir. 2011) (emphasis in the original).

         I agree with Skorup's claim that the ALJ's Step Three finding is not supported by substantial evidence. Because this case involves mental health issues, the Listings that are issue for the Step Three analysis are Listings 12.02, 12.03 and 12.04. The arcane inquiry for these all three of these Listings is, in part, the same. For all three Listings, the Step Three inquiry consists of two parts. First, the ALJ must consider if the plaintiff satisfies at least two of the four so-called “paragraph B” criteria. Second, the ALJ must consider if the plaintiff satisfies the “paragraph C” criteria. The plaintiff can qualify for benefits if he satisfies either the “paragraph B” criteria or the “paragraph C” criteria. While the ALJ made findings for each of the “paragraph B” criteria, she failed to make adequate findings for all of the “paragraph C” criteria.

         The ALJ made findings on each of the “paragraph B” criteria, which allow a claimant to qualify if he ...

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