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Carolyn Romasz, On Behalf v. Michael J. Astrue

October 26, 2012

CAROLYN ROMASZ, ON BEHALF OF A.H.N., PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMM'R OF SOC. SEC., DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Carolyn Romasz ("Plaintiff") on behalf of her son, A.H.N., against the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "the Commissioner") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 11, 12.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is denied and Plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

A.H.N. was born on June 22, 2000. At the time of his hearing, he was in the fifth grade. A.H.N.'s alleged impairments are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), Oppositional Defiant Disorder ("ODD"), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD") and depression.

B. Procedural History

On July 7, 2009, Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income on A.H.N.'s behalf. Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On February 11, 2011, Plaintiff and A.H.N. appeared before the ALJ, but the hearing was postponed so that Plaintiff's counsel, who at the time was just recently retained, would have time to review A.H.N.'s file. (T. 36-41.) Plaintiff and A.H.N. again appeared before the ALJ on March 18, 2011, at which time a hearing was held. (T. 42-62.) The ALJ issued a written decision finding A.H.N. not disabled under the Social Security Act on April 1, 2011. (T. 19-35.) On October 11, 2011, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-6.) Thereafter, Plaintiff timely sought judicial review in this Court.

C. The ALJ's Decision

Generally, in his decision, the ALJ made the following six findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 17-25.) First, the ALJ found that A.H.N. was a "school-age child" pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(g)(2) on July 7, 2009 (the date the application for benefits was filed), and on April 1, 2011 (the date of the ALJ's decision). (T. 25.) Second, the ALJ found that A.H.N. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity at any time. (Id.) Third, the ALJ found that A.H.N. suffers from ADHD, a severe impairment pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c). (Id.) Fourth, the ALJ found that A.H.N. does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I (the "Listings"). (Id.) Fifth, the ALJ found that A.H.N. does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equals an impairment set forth in the Listings. (T. 25-32.) Sixth, and finally, the ALJ concluded that A.H.N. has not been disabled, as defined by the Social Security Act, since July 7, 2009, the date his application was filed. (T. 32.)

II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION

A. Plaintiff's Arguments

Plaintiff makes three arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to find that A.H.N.'s ADHD, ODD, PTSD and depression met or medically equaled Listings 112.04, 112.08 and 112.11. (Dkt. No. 11 at 14-19 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to find that A.H.N. has marked impairments in the domain of acquiring and using information. (Id. at 19-21.) Third, and finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision is against the substantial weight of the evidence and is incorrect as a matter of law because he failed to develop the record and failed to properly explain his determination regarding Plaintiff's credibility. (Id. at 22-24.)

B. Defendant's Argument

In response, Defendant first argues that the ALJ's decision that A.H.N.'s impairment did not meet or medically equal a Listing is supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 12 at 16- 18 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Defendant argues that the ALJ's decision that A.H.N.'s impairment did not functionally equal a Listing was supported by substantial evidence. (Id. at 18-22.) Third, and finally, Defendant argues that the ALJ properly developed the record and that his decision regarding Plaintiff's credibility was supported by substantial evidence because her opinion was at odds with other evidence in the record.

III. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD

A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an individual is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Commissioner's determination will only be reversed if the correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not supported by substantial evidence. See Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987) ("Where there is a reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have her disability determination made according to the correct legal principles."); see Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979).

"Substantial evidence" is evidence that amounts to "more than a mere scintilla," and it has been defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).

"To determine on appeal whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight." Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988).

If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding must be sustained "even where substantial evidence may support the plaintiff's position and despite that the court's independent analysis of the evidence may differ from the [Commissioner's]." Rosado v. Sullivan, 805 F. Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). In other words, this Court must afford the Commissioner's determination considerable deference, and may not substitute "its own judgment for that of the [Commissioner], even if it might justifiably have reached a different result upon a de novo review." Valente v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir. 1984).

An individual under the age of eighteen (18) is disabled, and thus eligible for SSI benefits, if he or she has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and 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. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). However, that definitional provision excludes from coverage any "individual under the age of [eighteen] who engages in substantial gainful activity...." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(ii).

By regulation, the agency has prescribed a three-step evaluative process to be employed in determining whether a child can meet the statutory definition of disability. See 20 C.F.R. ยง 416.924; Kittles v. Barnhart, 245 F. Supp. 2d 479, 487-88 (E.D.N.Y. 2003); Ramos v. ...


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