United States District Court, S.D. New York
Michael D. Hampden, Partnership for Children's Rights, New York, NY, for the Plaintiff.
Susan C. Branagan, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, NY, for the Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
DENISE COTE, District Judge.
Plaintiff T.G. brings this action on behalf of her son, M.R.G., to obtain judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA"). Plaintiff requests that this matter be remanded, but with a qualification to limit the scope of the remand to exclude a favorable factual determination made the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The Commissioner supports the plaintiff's request for a remand, but without any limitation in scope. For the following reasons, the case is remanded in full.
The following discussion is based on the administrative record. M.R.G. is a male child born on June 10, 2006. On January 10, 2010, plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits on behalf of M.R.G. claiming that, as of November 2009, his hyperactivity and speech impairment rendered him disabled. On June 1, 2010, the application was denied. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ.
Plaintiff, M.R.G., and counsel were present for the hearing, which lasted fourteen minutes, from 9:40 a.m. until 9:54 a.m. on July 12, 2011. Plaintiff testified, describing M.R.G.'s problems as "constantly moving, hitting teachers, the other students, acting out, kicking and screaming, throwing tantrums, throwing his shoes, taking off clothes." In describing how M.R.G. differed from other five-year old boys, plaintiff stated that "he needs supervision with everything" and that she cannot "have him do anything." In response to questions from the ALJ, she confirmed that M.R.G. was in a "structured school setting" and that he knew his alphabet and letters. She explained that he did not get along well with other kids because "he likes to hit and... misbehave, he doesn't like to share, he grabs toys from the other children" and so other children "are no longer allowed to come to the house." When asked if M.R.G. was on any medication, plaintiff's counsel responded:
Attorney: There is no way though at this point. Greenwich Hill is working him up for treatment.
Attorney: And he has already been through an examination by a pediatric neurologist and now he has to go to be examined by a pediatric psychiatrist and unfortunately they are busy and the next appointment is now July 18th. There is no way to know if he is going to be on medication, at this point.
In response to questions from her counsel, plaintiff confirmed that M.R.G. has been destructive in the house and that he cannot go to the bathroom by himself. Although M.R.G. was present, the ALJ did not ask any questions of him, noting only at the end of the hearing that "the child has been very restless during the hearing for sure."
The evidentiary record before the ALJ - which consisted of many evaluations of M.R.G., both educational and medical - was lengthy and need not be addressed in detail. While most, if not all, of the evaluations recognized the existence of M.R.G.'s hyperactivity, aggression, and language delays, there was not a clear consensus on the degree to which they were limitations on his functioning.
On August 11, 2011, the ALJ issued his decision, concluding that M.R.G. was not disabled under the SSA. The critical legal issue in M.R.G.'s circumstances was whether he had a "marked" or "extreme" limitation with respect to his functioning in six domains: (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 yourself; and (6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)(i)-(vi). An individual is "disabled" under the SSA if he has either an extreme limitation in any one domain or a marked limitation in at least two domains. The ALJ found that M.R.G. had a marked limitation with respect to the third domain (interacting and relating with others) but a less-than-marked limitation with respect to the first and second domains.
Only those findings relevant to this Opinion are summarized here. As to the first domain (acquiring and using information), the ALJ noted M.R.G.'s behavioral difficulties, distractibility, and short attention span, but ...