The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge
Sonya Medina Wright ("plaintiff") brings this action on behalf of her son M.B. claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security improperly denied her application for Supplemental Security Benefits ("SSI") pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") was erroneous because it was not supported by substantial evidence in the record.
The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence and made in accordance with applicable law.
On September 17, 2007, plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI benefits on behalf of her school aged son as a result of a worsening stutter, tic disorder and behavior problems (Tr. 117-122). Her application was denied on February 8, 2008 (Tr. 70-73). Following the denial of her application, plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, and a hearing was held on February 2, 2009 before ALJ John P. Costello (Tr. 74-75, 80-83; see Tr. 26-66). Claimant and plaintiff were present at the hearing and were represented by counsel. Claimant is now 15 years old.
The Hearing before the ALJ
At the hearing, plaintiff testified that she filed the claim due to increasing occurrences of troublesome symptoms and behaviors in M.B. that culminated in criminal behavior (Tr. 33). Plaintiff testified that she filed for SSI when M.B. was placed back in her custody after spending four years in five different foster homes (Tr. 51-52, 255). M.B. was arrested for stealing a pair of sneakers from JcPenney's and attempting to burglarize a metal car junkyard as well as attempting to steal a go-kart from a man's backyard. As a result, M.B. appeared in Family Court where he was placed on probation and required to adhere to a curfew (Tr. 38-39). Plaintiff's testimony regarding M.B.'s current behavior is somewhat contradictory. First she stated that he was complying with the rules set forth by probation, but later she stated that he had not been compliant (Tr. 40-42). Plaintiff testified that M.B. does not follow directions about chores, that he has to be physically forced to shower and get up for school in the morning, but he is able to take care of his personal hygiene without assistance (Tr. 49-50). She testified that he is unable to sit through a movie without interruption, he is generally not able to stay on task and refuses to follow her directions (Tr. 50). She also testified that she has had to call the police about once a month because M.B. breaks things or makes threats of violence (Tr. 53). Lastly, she testified that M.B. has been suspended twice, given a five day out of school suspension, and four in school suspensions (Tr. 47-48).
M.B. testified that he behaves in school (mostly) and passes his classes, and he is particularly good at math and writing (Tr. 58). He also testified that he has only violated the curfew one time. He stated that he can sit through classes in school and that the teacher does not get mad at him (Tr. 63).
In a decision dated May 20, 2009, the ALJ found that of the six domains of functioning M.B. had a marked impairment in interacting and relating with others and a less than marked impairment in the remaining five domains (see Tr. 13-24). As a result, the ALJ determined that M.B. was not disabled. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Social Security Appeals Council on May 26, 2009. The Appeals council declined further review on March 4, 2009 (Tr. 8, 1-5). This action for review followed.
For the reasons set forth below, I hereby deny the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings, and remand this case to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this decision.
I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g). 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. Section 405(g) provides that the District Court "shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C.S. § 405(g) (2007). The section directs that when considering such a claim, the Court must accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Substantial evidence is defined as "'more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); see also Metropolitan Stevedore Co. v. Rambo, 521 U.S. 121, 149 (1997).
When determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the Court's task is "to examine the entire record, including contradictory evidence and evidence from which conflicting interferences can be drawn." Brown v. Apfel, 174 F.3d 59, 62 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (per curiam)). Section 405(g) limits the scope of the Court's review to two inquiries: determining whether the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, and whether the Commissioner's conclusions are based upon an erroneous legal standard. ...