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Brothers v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 9, 2017

MATTHEW BROTHERS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          EMPIRE JUSTICE CENTER Attorneys for Plaintiff LOUISE MARIE TARANTINO, ESQ.

          SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION Office of Regional General Counsel Attorneys for Defendant DAVID L. BROWN, SPECIAL AUSA.

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          Mae A. D'Agostino U.S. District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff commenced this action on January 27, 2016, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). See Dkt. No. 1.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's date of birth is September 22, 1994, which made him thirteen years old in December 2007 when he began receiving SSI benefits. See Dkt. No. 9, Administrative Transcript ("T."), at 104. In February 2013, the Social Security Administration ("SSA") notified Plaintiff that his eligibility for SSI benefits was being terminated after an age 18 redetermination. See Id. at 93. Plaintiff was nineteen years old on June 5, 2014, the date of Plaintiff's disability hearing. See Id. at 33. At that time, Plaintiff was 5'7" and weighed approximately 360 lbs. See Id. at 337. Plaintiff completed tenth grade in 2012[1] and a GED training course later that same year. See Id. at 159. Plaintiff testified that he took the GED twice with testing accommodations but failed. See Id. at 38, 48. Plaintiff also earned a certificate for completing an automotive technology program. See Id. at 38-39. Plaintiff testified that he frequently relied on an instructor in the automotive program for help with various tasks, including reading, and that he would not have been able to finish the class without that instructor's assistance. See Id. at 46-48. Plaintiff reported that he has only worked as a maintenance worker at a St. Lawrence County sponsored summer youth program. See Id. at 149-51, 159-60. Plaintiff has not worked since August 2012 and has no prior relevant work. See Id. at 79, 159-60.

         Plaintiff testified that his asthma impacts his everyday life. According to Plaintiff, working at the summer program was difficult because certain chemicals he handled exacerbated his asthma. See Id. at 51-52. Plaintiff reported that his brother, who also worked at the summer program, frequently helped him perform tasks, including handling chemicals. See Id. Plaintiff attested that he probably could not have completed his work at the summer program without his brother's assistance. See Id. Plaintiff also testified that his asthma required him to leave work early on several occasions and that his asthma occasionally interrupts his sleep. See Id. at 40, 53-54. Plaintiff claimed that he cannot walk a whole block and that attempting to do so causes shortness of breath. See Id. at 52.

         Plaintiff also suffers from a reading disorder. See Id. at 40-41. Plaintiff testified that he is generally capable of reading children's books and occasionally reads to his five year old brother, but sometimes has difficulty. See Id. at 41, 49. Plaintiff also testified that he needs help to read letters and simple recipes and usually cannot read newspaper articles. See Id. at 40-42, 49-50. Plaintiff spends most of his time at home with his mother. See Id. at 44. Plaintiff often plays board games, such as Sorry and Uno, with his mother but needs help reading instructions. See Id. at 44-45, 55. Plaintiff testified that he assists with cooking, mopping, sweeping, and laundry; however, he can only occasionally perform such tasks without his mother's supervision. See Id. at 44, 54. For example, Plaintiff claims that he struggles to measure the right amount of detergent and read the washing machine's controls by himself. See Id. at 54. Plaintiff is generally able to purchase food at the grocery store, but struggles with certain items that are unfamiliar to him because he cannot read the labels. See Id. at 50. Plaintiff testified that he is able to lift a gallon of milk and a bag of potatoes. See Id. at 53. Plaintiff also indicated that he does not use a computer and that he becomes frustrated when he has tried. See Id. at 55. Plaintiff also indicated that he enjoys watching sports but only watches them for a few minutes before getting bored and moving on to something else. See Id. at 45, 54.

         Plaintiff's mother testified that Plaintiff is generally unable to read children's books to his younger brother. See Id. at 60. She also contended that Plaintiff is unable to go to the grocery store by himself, cannot count change, and tends to lose money. See Id. at 60-62. She also attested that Plaintiff cannot follow multistep instructions, struggles to retain information, plays with children's toys, and cannot function alone. See Id. at 65-68.

         Cognitive testing performed in 2004 revealed a verbal score of 81 and a full scale score of 71, as well as a perceptual reasoning score of 73, a working memory score of 86, and a processing speed score of 68. See Id. at 195-96. In 2008, Plaintiff received a verbal score of 93, as well as a perceptual reasoning score of 90, a working memory score of 99, and a processing speed score of 68. See Id. at 196. In 2011, Plaintiff received a verbal score of 103, a nonverbal score of 88, and a full scale score of 96. See Id. at 200. Most recently, in 2014, Plaintiff received a verbal score of 76 and a full scale score of 74, as well as a perceptual reasoning score of 77, a working memory score of 74, and a processing speed score of 71. See Id. at 338.

         On February 25, 2013, the SSA determined that Plaintiff was no longer disabled and therefore no longer qualified to receive SSI benefits. See Id. at 93. In March 2013, Plaintiff's mother filed a request for reconsideration on Plaintiff's behalf. See Id. at 99. Plaintiff attended a Disability Hearing Officer hearing on September 24, 2013. See Id. at 102. By decision dated October 28, 2013, the Disability Hearing Officer upheld the decision to terminate Plaintiff's SSI benefits. See Id. at 111-16. Plaintiff then requested a hearing by an administrative law judge. See Id. at 117-19. A video-conference hearing was conducted on June 5, 2014 before Administrative Law Judge Jennifer Smith (the "ALJ"). See Id. at 33-89. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision to Plaintiff dated September 15, 2014. See Id. at 15-32. The ALJ made the following determinations: (1) Plaintiff turned eighteen on September 21, 2012, was eligible for SSI benefits as a child, and was notified that he was no longer disabled as of February 25, 2013, based on a redetermination of disability; (2) since February 25, 2013, Plaintiff has had the following severe impairments: obesity, asthma, and a learning disability in reading and writing; (3) since February 25, 2013, Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of a Listed Impairment in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (the "Listed Impairment(s)"); (4) since February 25, 2013, Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b) except that he must avoid concentrated exposure to respiratory irritants and extreme temperatures, and Plaintiff can stand, walk, or sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday with occasional lifting or carrying of twenty pounds and frequent lifting or carrying of ten pounds; (5) Plaintiff has no past relevant work; and (6) considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. See Id. at 15-32. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's disability ended on February 25, 2013 and that Plaintiff was not under a disability from February 25, 2013 through the date of the ALJ's decision. See Id. at 28.

         Plaintiff timely filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council See Id. at 5-7. In a notice dated November 27, 2015, the request was denied, rendering the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. See Id. at 1-4. Plaintiff then commenced this action for judicial review of the denial of his claim by the filing of a complaint on January 27, 2016. See Dkt. No. 1. Both parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings. See Dkt. Nos. 12, 18. The Court orders that the Commissioner's decision is vacated and remanded.

         III. ...


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