United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
DEGUILIO UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
Jjkita Lenox applied for social security disability benefits,
claiming that she was disabled because of her lupus,
depression, anxiety, and intellectual disability. An
administrative law judge found that despite her disabilities,
Ms. Lenox retained the ability to work, so she was not
disabled. Ms. Lenox appeals that decision, focusing solely on
the step-three finding that she did not meet the listing for
an intellectual disability. For the reasons explained below,
the Court finds that the decision was supported by
substantial evidence, so the Court affirms.
Lenox filed applications for social security disability
benefits and supplemental security income, alleging that she
became unable to work due to her disabilities beginning in
August 2012. Ms. Lenox has been diagnosed with depression,
anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder, for which she
periodically sought treatment. She also began complaining of
joint pain in June 2013, and was eventually diagnosed with
Lenox underwent a consultative psychological evaluation by
Dr. Todd Snyder in June 2013. Dr. Snyder noted that Ms. Lenox
had attended special education classes in school and had
attended school only until the ninth grade. As an adult,
however, Ms. Lenox had worked in a childcare center for five
years, and in a nursing home as a housekeeper for around six
months. She also cared for her three children and performed
household chores. Dr. Snyder administered an IQ test, which
reflected a full scale IQ score of 67. Dr. Snyder noted that
an IQ score in that range is typically associated with mild
mental retardation (now referred to as intellectual
disability), and that she had “significant intellectual
aptitude limitations that have limited her success in many
job situations and academic pursuits.” (R. 500).
However, Dr. Snyder also found that Ms. Lenox's
“functional skills for daily living appear to be
somewhat higher than that of most individuals with a [full
scale IQ] this low.” (R. 500). Accordingly, he
concluded that the appropriate diagnosis was
“Borderline Intellectual Functioning”-not
intellectual disability. Id. He further opined that
Ms. Lenox had moderate symptoms of generalized anxiety
disorder and mild symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder
Lenox later underwent another consultative examination with
Dr. Craig Nordstrom. Dr. Nordstrom noted that Ms. Lenox
struggled with reading and writing and had “significant
deficits in functional academic skills.” (R. 618, 621).
He also found, however, that her thought processes appeared
logical and her behavior appeared goal-directed, that she was
able to care for her personal needs and hygiene, and that she
was able to cook and perform household chores. Dr. Nordstrom
also noted that Ms. Lenox had run her own childcare business
and appeared to function fairly well in math, and he opined
that she could manage her funds independently. (R. 620-21).
He also noted that she suffered from depressive symptoms that
likely caused her to avoid social interaction. Over the
course of Ms. Lenox's claim, several agency doctors
reviewed her records; none found that she met a listing or
that she qualified as intellectually disabled.
first appearing at a hearing without representation, Ms.
Lenox decided to retain counsel. A new hearing was then
convened with counsel present, but that hearing had to be
adjourned due to a lack of time. Ms. Lenox thus appeared with
counsel before a different ALJ several months later. Ms.
Lenox's attorney had previously submitted a brief arguing
that she met Listing 12.05C, for intellectual disability. Her
attorney also requested that the ALJ obtain records from a
previous application for benefits from when Ms. Lenox was a
child. He argued that those records would be relevant to
showing that her intellectual disability manifested before
the age of 22, which is one of the requirements of that
listing. The ALJ declined, explaining that the onset date of
the condition was not likely to be at issue, but that if it
was she would consider those records. (R. 70-71).
Lenox then testified at the hearing. She testified that she
had lived alone with her three children for the past year,
before which she lived with her aunt. She was the only adult
in the household and she was the primary caregiver for her
children, ages 4, 7, and 13. She testified that she had
previously worked at a childcare center, and had also run her
own babysitting business for several years, watching up to
six kids at a time. She had also worked as a housekeeper in a
nursing home. As to her limitations, Ms. Lenox testified that
her fingers and legs would occasionally lock up due to her
lupus. She also testified that she experienced anxiety and
panic attacks, and that someone would always go with her when
she went to the store. She also noted that she struggled with
reading and writing and had been in special education classes
in school. The hearing concluded after testimony from a
subsequently issued a decision finding that Ms. Lenox did not
qualify as disabled. The ALJ found at step two that Ms. Lenox
had severe impairments including lupus, persistent depressive
disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety
disorder, and subaverage intellectual functioning. The ALJ
then considered several listings at step three. Of note here,
the ALJ found that Ms. Lenox did not meet listing 12.05C, for
intellectual disability. In particular, the ALJ found that
Ms. Lenox did not meet the diagnostic criteria for
intellectual disability, which is a threshold requirement for
the listing, because she did not have deficits in adaptive
functioning. In support of that finding, the ALJ noted that
Ms. Lenox had struggled academically as a child, but that as
an adult, she engaged in numerous activities including caring
for her children, and she had worked as a babysitter, as a
housekeeper, and in a childcare center. The ALJ also noted,
among other factors, that Dr. Snyder opined that Ms. Lenox
had a higher level of functioning than one would expect based
on her IQ scores.
found that Ms. Lenox did not meet a listing, the ALJ
proceeded to steps four and five, at which she concluded that
Ms. Lenox was unable to perform her past work but could
perform other jobs. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Ms. Lenox
did not qualify as disabled. The Appeals Council denied
review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. Ms. Lenox thus filed this action seeking
judicial review of that decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the Appeals Council denied review, the Court evaluates the
ALJ's decision as the final word of the Commissioner of
Social Security. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702,
707 (7th Cir. 2013). This Court will affirm the
Commissioner's findings of fact and denial of disability
benefits if they are supported by substantial evidence.
Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008).
Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). This 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). Thus, even if “reasonable minds could
differ” about the disability status of the claimant,
the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision as long
as it is adequately supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529
F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material
conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of
the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400.
In this substantial-evidence determination, the Court
considers the entire administrative record but does not
reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of
credibility, or substitute the Court's own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003).
Nevertheless, the Court conducts a “critical review of
the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner's
decision. Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence
favoring the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the
claim's rejection and may not ignore an entire line of
evidence that is contrary to his or her findings.
Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir.
2001). Consequently, an ALJ's decision cannot stand if it
lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the
issues. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. While the ALJ is not
required to address every piece of evidence or testimony
presented, the ALJ must provide a “logical
bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions.
Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009).
STANDARD FOR DISABILITY
benefits are available only to those individuals who can
establish disability under the terms of the Social Security
Act. Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir.
1998). Specifically, the claimant must be unable “to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Social
Security regulations create a five-step sequential evaluation
process to be used in determining whether the claimant has
established a disability. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). The steps are to be used in the
1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
3. Whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one
listed in the regulations;
4. Whether the claimant can still perform relevant past work;
5. Whether the claimant can perform other work in the