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Nekeisha Smith, On Behalf of D.R. v. Michael J. Astrue

March 23, 2011

NEKEISHA SMITH, ON BEHALF OF D.R. PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court in this action, filed by Nekeisha Smith on behalf of D.R. ("Plaintiff") against Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue ("Defendant") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking Social Security benefits, are the following: (1) Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 10); (2) Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 13); and (3) the Report-Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Victor E. Bianchini, issued pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Local Rule 72.3(c) of the Local Rules of Practice for this Court, recommending that the case be remanded to Defendant for further proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (Dkt. No. 15). For the reasons set forth below, Magistrate Judge Bianchini's Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted in its entirety; Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied; Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied; and the case is remanded to Defendant for further proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Because neither party has objected to Part II of Magistrate Judge Bianchini's Report-Recommendation, which sets forth the procedural background of this action, the Court adopts that description of this action's procedural background. (See generally Dkt. No. 15, at 2-3 [Report-Rec].)

More specifically, on June 5, 2006, Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income ("SSI") on D.R.'s behalf based on D.R.'s symptoms of ADHD, ODD, depression, asthma and sleep disorder. (See Administrative Transcript ["T."] 55-57.)*fn1 The application was denied by the Social Security Administration. (T. at 25-28.) On February 17, 2009, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") of the Social Security Administration. (T. at 327-48.) On March 16, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision finding D.R. not disabled. (T. at 11-22.)

In his decision, the ALJ applied the three-step evaluation process for determining whether a child can meet the statutory definition of disability,*fn2 and concluded that D.R. was not disabled. (T. at 14.) More specifically, in reaching this conclusion, the ALJ made the following "If the child if found to have a severe impairment, the Commissioner must then determine, at the third step, whether the impairment meets or equals a presumptively disabling condition identified in the listing of impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P., App. 1." Id. "Equivalence to a listing can be either medical or functional." Id. "If an impairment is found to meet, or qualify as medically or functionally equivalent to, a listed disability, and the twelve-month durational requirement is satisfied, the claimant will be found to be disabled." Id. "'Functional' equivalence must be examined only if it is determined that the claimant's impairment does not meet or medically equal the criteria for a listed impairment." Id. "Analysis of functionality is informed by considering how a claimant functions in six main areas referred to as 'domains.'" Id. "The domains are described as 'broad areas of functioning intended to capture all of what a child can or cannot do.'" Id. (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a[b][1]). "Those domains include: (1) acquiring and using information; (2) attending and completing tasks; (3) interacting and relating with others; (4) moving about and manipulating objects; (5) caring for oneself; and (6) health and physical well-being." Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a[b][1]).

"Functional equivalence is established by a finding of an 'extreme' limitation, meaning 'more than marked,' in a single domain." Id. (quoting, inter alia, 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a[a]). "An 'extreme limitation' is an impairment which 'interferes very seriously with [the claimant's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.'" Id. (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a[e][3][I]).

"Alternatively, a finding of disability is warranted if a 'marked' limitation is found in any two of the listed domains." Id. (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a[a]). "A 'marked limitation' exists when the impairment 'interferes seriously with [the claimant's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.'" Id. (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a[e][2][I]). "A marked limitation may arise when several activities or functions are impaired, or even when only one is impaired, as long as the degree of limitation is such as to interfere seriously with the ability to function (based upon age-appropriate expectations) independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis." 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, § 112.00(C). findings: (1) D.R. was a school-aged child at the time of his application date and was an adolescent at the time of the decision; (2) D.R. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity at any point leading up to the decision; (3) D.R.'s ADHD, depression, and learning disability were severe impairments; (4) D.R.'s "sleep disturbances and asthma" were non-severe impairments; (5) D.R.'s impairments did not meet or medically equal a Listed impairment; (6) "the statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of [D.R.'s] symptoms [we]re . . . not credible to the extent they [we]re inconsistent with finding [D.R.] d[id] not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equal[ed] the listings . . . ."; (7) D.R.'s impairments did not functionally meet the Listings; and (8) D.R. had no limitations in the remaining three domains. (Id. at 14-22.)

Plaintiff appealed from the ALJ's decision to the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. (T. at 321.) On November 19, 2009, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of Defendant. (T. at 3-7.) On January 14, 2010, Plaintiff commenced this action in federal court. (Dkt. No. 1.)

Generally, in her brief in support of her Complaint, Plaintiff asserts the following arguments: (1) the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical and non-medical opinions from three sources; (2) the ALJ erred at various other points throughout the sequential evaluation; and (3) good cause exists to reopen Plaintiff's earlier application. (Dkt. No. 10.) Generally, in his brief in response to Plaintiff's brief, Defendant disagrees with each of these arguments, and argues that the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed. (Dkt. No. 13.)

B. Magistrate Judge Bianchini's Report-Recommendation

On January 20, 2011, Magistrate Judge Bianchini issued a Report-Recommendation recommending that Plaintiff's case be remanded to the Commissioner. (Dkt. No. 15.) In support of his recommendation, Magistrate Judge Bianchini found as follows: (1) the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinions of Dr. Payne, D.R.'s sixth grade teacher, and Dr. Petro, and in failing to request that Dr. Payne clarify her opinions; and (2) because the ALJ erred in his evaluation of the medical ...


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