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Estrella v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 22, 2017

JOCELYN ESTRELLA, o/b/o M.R.E., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, [1] Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Lisa Margaret Smith United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Jocelyn Estrella commences this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). She seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"), which denied her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. ECF No. 1. Each party has submitted a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF Nos. 17, 22. For the reasons discussed below, I conclude, and respectfully recommend that Your Honor should conclude, that the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings (ECF No. 22) be denied, and Plaintiffs motion (ECF No. 17) be granted. As such, the ALJ's decision should be vacated, and the case should be remanded to the Agency for further proceedings consistent with this Report and Recommendation.

         No objections to this thorough Report and Recommendation ("R&R") have been recieved. I have reviewed it for clear error, and find none. Accordingly, the R&R is adopted as the decision of the Court. Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is DENIED; Plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED; the ALJ's decision is VACATED; and this case is REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with the R&R. The Clerk of Court is respectfully directed to terminate the pending motions, (Docs. 17, 22) and remand the case to the Social Security Administration.

         SO ORDERED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed a claim for SSI on behalf of her infant son, M.R.E. (or "the claimant"), on July 24, 2012. AR 178-87.[2] By correspondence dated August 24, 2012, the Social Security Administration (the "SSA" or "Agency") denied Plaintiffs application. AR 94-99. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). AR 100. The Agency conducted two hearings, which were held on August 21 (AR 69-84) and December 6, 2013 (AR 50-68). On January 15, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. AR 29-49. Plaintiff subsequently filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council, which was denied on July 24, 2015. AR 1-7. Accordingly, the ALJ's January, 2014, decision became the final action of the Commissioner.

         The instant lawsuit followed. See ECF No. 1. In her papers, Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner's findings are contrary to law and regulations promulgated pursuant to the Social Security Act (the "Act") and not supported by substantial evidence. ECF No. 1. She asks this Court to reverse the Commissioner's decision and award benefits, or in the alternative, to vacate the decision and remand the matter to the Agency for further proceedings. ECF No. 1, at 4.

         B. Medical & Educational Records

         1. Evidence Before the ALJ

         a. Records Pre-dating Plaintiffs SSI Application [3]

         i. Steinway Child and Family Services

         M.R.E. began receiving treatment through Steinway Child and Family Services, Inc. ("Steinway"), a non-profit agency, in February, 2009. AR 377. On March 19, 2009, Lauren McEvoy, a licensed master social worker ("LMSW"), completed an Intake Summary, which recorded M.R.E.'s educational and developmental histories to date. AR 377-80.[4] M.R.E., who was then five years old, had first been referred to Steinway from Elmhurt Hospital's Child and Adolescent Walk-In Clinic, where he was diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), combined type, and oppositional defiant disorder ("ODD"). AR 377.[5]

         Ms. McEvoy's notes with respect to the frequency and intensity of M.R.E.'s symptoms are somewhat equivocal. At times, she noted, M.R.E. demonstrated the ability to follow directions and accept limits. AR 377. On other occasions, he was susceptible to temper tantrums and spells of yelling, "especially when limits [were] set by his mother." AR 377. M.R.E. displayed marked impulsivity, distractability, and low frustration tolerance, but was able "to appropriately take turns and to stick to a game at other times[]." AR 377. She also wrote that M.R.E. appeared to be of average intelligence and was, at times, friendly and easily engaged, while at other times he displayed impulsive and oppositional behavior. AR 377. Ms. McEvoy determined that M.R.E. was in need of therapy "to support he and his mother in decreasing his impulsivity, distractibility and occupational behavior." AR 378. She also found that M.R.E. would benefit from further psychiatric evaluation and possible medication management, in order to address his symptoms of ADHD and ODD. AR38O.

         On June 22, 2011, Dr. Salvacion Bonete, a psychiatrist at Steinway, evaluated the claimant. AR 369. M.R.E. was six years old at the time, and had previously been diagnosed with ADHD, combined type, and ODD, rule out bipolar disorder, by Dr. Jose Vito on March 21, 2009. AR 369.[6] M.R.E. was prescribed Concerta, 72 mg, and Risperidone, 2 mg. AR 369.[7] Despite these medications, Plaintiff reported that M.R.E.'s ADHD symptoms had escalated; M.R.E. was constantly provoked and provocative of other students in his school, and prone to aggressive outbursts. AR369;[8]

         Dr. Bonete found that M.R.E. was cooperative and relatable throughout much of the evaluation, but could be resistant and oppositional to direction at times. AR 370. Generally, the claimant appeared to be in an excited mood - he was fidgety, restless, talkative, and unable to sit still - and was easily distracted. AR 370. Although he was fully oriented and displayed an appropriate affect, M.R.E.'s concentration was impaired, and he demonstrated poor judgment, insight, and impulse control. AR 371-72. Dr. Bonete diagnosed M.R.E. with ADHD, combined type, and ODD, rule out bipolar disorder. AR 373. She also assigned him a global assessment of functioning ("GAF") score of 48, which indicates a serious impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning. AR 373.[9] Dr. Bonete added a prescription for Ritalin, 5 mg, in response to an exacerbation of M.R.E.'s ADHD symptoms.[10] She also recommended that he continue with behavioral therapy and, if practicable, be placed in a smaller class setting with more structure and supervision, as well as a school bus with fewer children and a school bus monitor. AR 373.

         On June 30, 2011, Ms. McEvoy noted that the claimant continued to struggle with aggressive outbursts. AR 374. Additionally, M.R.E. demonstrated difficulty accepting limits, managing his responses to provocation, and was often provocative in his interactions with classmates. AR 374. Ms. McEvoy found that the claimant was intelligent, curious, and capable of interacting in a friendly and engaging manner, but struggled with impulsivity, hyperactivity, and difficulty focusing, while also exhibiting oppositional behavior. AR 374, Although M.R.E. made progress toward decreasing the intensity of these symptoms, Ms. McEvoy found that he continued to struggle "significantly with aggression at school, which [was] getting in the way of overall functioning and peer relationships." AR 376.

         On August 16, 2011, Dr. Bonete and Ms. McEvoy wrote to the New York City Department of Education ("DOE") concerning M.R.E.'s academic placement. AR 263.[11] They indicated that M.R.E. continued to struggle with aggressive outbursts and had difficulty managing his behavior. AR 63. They believed that he would benefit from a smaller educational setting which could provide "more intensive, hands-on support [.]" AR263.

         M.R.E. was discharged from Steinway on September 14, 2011. AR 367-68. According to a summary prepared by Ms. McEvoy on the same date, M.R.E.'s symptoms "fluctuated significantly" over the course of treatment. AR 367. After a period of sustained improvement, M.R.E. began displaying increased aggression, difficulty accepting limits, and poor frustration tolerance. AR 368. The claimant was therefore transferred to Bellevue Hospital's Child and Adolescent Day Treatment Program (the "Bellevue Program"), where he could receive a higher level of care. AR 368. The final diagnoses rendered by Ms. McEvoy was consistent with the prior findings: ADHD, combined type, and ODD, rule out bipolar disorder. AR 368. At the time of his discharge from Steinway, M.R.E. had been prescribed Concerta, 72 mg, Ritalin, 5 mg, and Risperidone, 2.5 mg. AR 374, ii. Bellevue Hospital's Child and Adolescent Day Treatment Program [12]

         M.R.E. enrolled in the Bellevue Program in the Fall of 2011, through which he was placed in a highly structured educational setting at PS 35, and was provided psychiatric care and individual therapy on a weekly basis. ECF Nos. 19, at 13-14; 23, at 7. On December 15, 2011, M.R.E. met with Debra McVey, a licensed clinical social worker (" LCSW"). AR 434. Ms. McVey noted that the claimant could follow directions, did not "boss other peers, " and was able to complete his school work. AR 434. On the following day, December 16, M.R.E. saw Dr. Eric Alcera, who reported that M.R.E. had been struggling to follow directions at school. AR 435. Dr. Alcera noted that the claimant was cooperative, well-related, oriented, alert, and possessed normal judgment and insight. AR 435. He diagnosed M.R.E. with ADHD, with significant hyperactivity and inattention, as well as a history of aggression, AR 436.

         On December 19, 2011, Courtney Karp, a social work intern, met with M.R.E. for a weekly therapy session. AR 431. M.R.E. reported that he was "fine, " but provided poor eye contact. AR 431. Otherwise, he was cooperative, alert, and oriented, and his insight and judgment were both intact. AR 431. On December 20, 2011, Dr. Kathryn Kavanaugh, a psychologist, and Christina Laitner, a psychology extern, co-authored notes which described M.R.E.'s struggles in the classroom. AR 433. He had difficulty waiting his turn and frequently requested to be called on by his teachers before other students. AR 43. When he was not, he became "vocal." AR 433. Ms. Karp and M.R.E. met once again on December 22, 2011. AR 437. M.R.E. had been "acting out" in class, and was very upset when confronted about his behavior. AR 437. The claimant also reported that he and his family would soon be moving to the Bronx, which made him feel overwhelmed and anxious. AR437.

         On January 3, 2012, Dr. Kavanaugh and Ms. Laitner described that M.R.E. often "pout[ed] and whine[d]" when he was not called on before other students. AR 439-40. The claimant could also "be bossy with his peers." AR 440. At the same time, Dr. Kavanaugh and Ms. Laitner noted, M.R.E. actively sought interpersonal connections with his classmates, and was motivated by the point system in place at school, which rewarded good behavior. AR 440.

         On January 10, 2012, Dr. Alcera wrote that M.R.E. continued to exhibit "some oppositional behavior, " although the intensity and frequency of such outbursts had decreased. AR443. Citing a recent school report, Dr. Alcera noted that M.R.E. performed adequately academically. AR 443. Results from a mental status examination were also unremarkable. AR 443.[13] Dr. Alcera diagnosed ADHD, but noted that, generally, M.R.E.'s symptoms continued to improve, as demonstrated by the decreased frequency and intensity of his outbursts. AR 444. On January 20, Ms. Karp and M.R.E. met for a weekly therapy session. AR 457. M.R.E. reported being "happy, " and that he was in a good mood, excited for his upcoming eighth birthday. AR 457. He had also been performing well and behaving in class. AR 457.

         On January 24, 2012, Dr. Kavanaugh, along with Debroh Zlotnik, a psychology extern, noted that M.R.E, participated actively and appropriately in group activities. AR 445. Indeed, he "encourage[d] his peers not to get upset when they were not winning" during a class exercise. AR 445. On January 26, Ms. Karp reported that M.R.E. had "been doing really well and will soon be ready to move on to a new school." AR 459. On January 27, Dr. Kavanugh and Ms. Zlotnik wrote that M.R.E. demonstrated good behavioral control, was not disruptive, and appeared fully engaged in group activities. AR 447. Once again, on February 3, M.R.E. was an active, and appropriately behaved, participant in group activities. AR 451.

         Also on February 3, 2012, M.R.E. met with Ms. Karp, appearing in a good mood, and with a cooperative attitude. AR 453. Ms. Karp noted that M.R.E. spoke at a normal rate and rhythm, "varying between a normal volume and very loud outbursts when [he became] excited." AR 453. The claimant sat still in his chair during the session, and demonstrated sound insight and judgment. AR 455. On February 9, however, he apparently regressed; as Dr. Kavanaugh and Ms. Zlotnik noted, M.R.E. exhibited hyperactive behavior, impulsivity, and difficulty focusing during group exercises. AR 450. Nevertheless, they noted, M.R.E. could be redirected to engage in appropriate behavior when instructed to do so. AR 450.

         On February 13, 2012, Dr. Alcera reported that M.R.E. was compliant with his medications. AR 465. A mental status examination was normal, and Dr. Alcera noted that M.R.E.'s aggression and outbursts in class had improved. AR465. As of February 16, M.R.E, was once again comporting himself well in the classroom. AR 461. Dr, Kavanaugh and Ms. Zlotnik described his euthymic mood and active, appropriate behavior, as well as his positive responses to verbal praise and reinforcement. AR 461. Also on February 16, M.R.E. met with Ms. Karp; although he appeared calm, he was easily distracted and had to be redirected multiple times throughout the session. AR 463. Ms. Karp indicated that M.R.E. had "done very well behaviorally in school over the past month, earning [moderate scores] on the behavioral point sheet." AR 463.[14] When they met again on the following day, February 17, Ms. Karp noted that the claimant was calm, cooperative, alert and oriented. AR 468. His mood was euthymic and he required little redirection throughout the therapy session. AR 468.

         According to notes prepared by Ms. Zlotnik on March 1, 2012, M.R.E. was generally on task during class exercises. Ar 470, Although he demonstrated hyperactivity and impulsivity, the claimant participated actively and appropriately with his classmates. AR 470. Additionally, Ms. Zlotnik noted, M.R.E. was responsive to positive reinforcement of his good behavior, and generally well behaved. AR 471. Ms. Zlotnik's notes from March 8 are substantively indistinguishable from the above. AR 475, [15] On March 9, Ms. Karp and M.R.E. discussed a recent altercation in which he bullied a classmate on the school bus. AR 473. M.R.E. was calm and cooperative; he understood that his actions were unnecessary and hurtful. AR 473. On March 19, Dr. Alcera noted that M.R.E. was "doing well, with no noted difficulties at home and at school." AR 479. A mental status examination was once again normal. AR 479.[16]

         On March 22, Ms. Zlotnik provided an apparently conflicting account of M.R.E.'s behavior in class. On the one hand, she noted, he was generally on task and well behaved; at the same time, however, M.R.E. "often told tangential stories that were not on topic and it was difficult to redirect him." AR 481. On March 23, Ms. Karp met with M.R.E. to discuss a recent threat he had made to a fellow classmate while on the school bus. AR 484.[17] M.R.E. explained that he threatened the other student because he was annoyed with her and wanted to scare her. AR 484. He made sparse eye contact during the session, but was readily redirected. AR 484.

         M.R.E. met with Ms. Karp once again on March 30, 2012, at which time he admitted that his threatening actions the previous week were "wrong" and that he and his classmate were "fine." AR 486. Although M.R.E. appeared happy at the beginning of the meeting, he grew upset after discussing his transition to a new school. AR 486-87.[18] On April 3, the claimant met once again with Ms. Karp for an individual therapy session. AR 492. M.R.E.'s mood vacillated over the course of the session, "ranging from happy when discussing [his] good behavior to depressed when upcoming transitions were discussed." AR 493. The claimant was otherwise alert and oriented, with his thought process coherent and goal-directed. AR 492.

         M.R.E. presented to Ms. Zlotnik on April 5, 2012, in an irritable mood; he had continuously been provoked by one of his classmates. AR 490. M.R.E. threatened to fight the classmate, and Ms. Zlotnik noted that he demonstrated hyperactivity and impulsivity throughout the group meeting. AR 490. On April 9, 2012, Dr. Alcera reported that the claimant remained compliant with his medication, and that both home and school reports showed that M.R.E.'s attention and focus had improved. AR 494, M.R.E. was also less irritable and argumentative, and "more flexible", complying "without difficulty with staff, teachers and [his] mom." AR 494. A mental status examination was normal. AR 494. Dr. Alcera observed that M.R.E. was generally doing better but still suffered from significant hyperactivity and inattention. AR 495.

         On April 13, 2012, Plaintiff informed Ms. Kaip that M.R.E., who was home from school at the time on a scheduled break, had been "difficult" but "not out of control." AR 496. Indeed, Plaintiff was capable of redirecting M.R.E. to behave appropriately, but it often required threatening to call the police or a hospital to calm him down. AR 496. Upon his return to school, on April 16, M.R.E. met with Ms. Karp for an individual therapy session. AR 500. Although the claimant remained cooperative and calm throughout the session, he told Ms. Karp that he sometimes felt as though he was incapable of controlling himself. AR 500. On April 19, Ms. Zlotnik noted that M.R.E. had been verbally aggressive toward a classmate, but "responded well to redirection and was [thereafter] able to use effective problem solving skills to resolve peer conflict." AR 498. Aside from the initial conflict, M.R.E. was generally on task and well-behaved. AR 498.

         Ms. Karp, who was leaving the Bellevue Program at the end of the month, met with M.R.E. for the final time on April 27, 2012. During their meeting, they discussed a minor altercation between the claimant and other students on the bus, and went out for ice cream to celebrate M.R.E.'s otherwise good behavior. AR 502. Ms. Karp noted that, in general, the claimant got along well with his peers and was well-behaved. AR 502, During the meeting M.R.E. interacted with Ms. Karp in a friendly and appropriate manner. AR 502.

         In group sessions on both April 26 and May 3, 2012, M.R.E. became verbally aggressive toward a classmate, but responded well to redirection. AR 504, 506. As Ms. Zlotnik wrote, M.R.E. appropriately sought extra help from the staff and generally behaved well after the initial conflict. AR 504, 506. On May 10, Ms. Zlotnik reported that M.R.E. was generally on task and interacted well with his peers. AR 488. The claimant responded well to redirection from his teachers and demonstrated "good team work." AR 488.

         Also on May 10, 2012, M.R.E. met with Debra McVey, who had replaced Ms. Karp as his therapist at the Bellevue Program. AR 508. Ms. McVey noted that M.R.E, had a short temper in the classroom, and was incapable of responding to redirection from his teachers. AR 508. Less than one week later, on May 16, Dr. Alcera wrote that M.R.E. was doing well in the program, remaining "engaged academically with minimal to nil tantrums or outbursts." AR 509. M.R.E. exhibited good behavior at home and continued to demonstrate improved frustration tolerance at school. AR 509. A mental status examination was unremarkable; M.R.E. was alert, oriented, and cooperative. AR509.

         On May 24, 2012, Ms. Zlotnik rendered an apparently conflicting account of M.R.E.'s behavior during group activities. AR 512. She began her narrative by stating that the claimant was generally on task and well behaved during the group activity, but wrote in the next sentence that he "demonstrated bossy behavior towards group members." AR 512.[19] On May 25, Plaintiff spoke with Ms. McVey to inform her that M.R.E. was having trouble getting along with two peers in his after school program. AR512.

         M.R.E. told Ms. McVey on June 1, 2012, that he felt "in control" and did not think he required more medication. AR 515. He reported that two students in his after school program were being provocative by "always saying bad or mean things" about his mother, but he was able to ignore them. AR 515. On June 8, Ms. McVey noted that M.R.E. behaved well in class over the previous week, AR 515. According to Ms. Zlotnik's notes of June 14, 2012, M.R.E. was generally on task and interacted well with his peers. AR 517. On the following day, June 15, Ms. McVey noted that M.R.E. was "doing better" in the after school program. AR 518. Plaintiff also reported that the claimant's behavior at home had improved. AR 518. On June 22, Ms. Mcvey wrote that M.R.E. had a good week, and was able to play with a classmate without "being too bossy[.]"AR 519.

         Dr. Alcera, writing on July 11, 2012, noted that M.R.E. did not have any tantrums or aggressive outbursts in the previous month. AR 520. The claimant continued to show improvement in his behavior at school; his attention, focus, and mood were each considered "good" as well. AR 520. M.R.E. was compliant with his medications, and a mental status examination was normal. AR 520. On the same day, July 11, Ms. McVey met with M.R.E. for an individual therapy session. AR 523. They discussed a recent altercation between the claimant and a classmate of his during an after school program, wherein the claimant threatened to hit the peer for jumping ahead of him in line, AR 523. M.R.E., according to Ms. McVey, "agreed that learning is more important... than being the first on line." AR 523.

         On July 20, 2012, Ms. McVey wrote that M.R.E.'s anger management had improved. AR 524. She had also spoken with Plaintiff, who confirmed that the claimant would begin attending PS 96 in the fall and receiving additional care from Astor Services for Children and Families, a clinic located in the Bronx, New York, AR 524. Both Ms. McVey and Plaintiff "agreed that [M.R.E.] improved and he did great in the [Bellevue Program]." AR 524.

         iii. PS 35 Riverview School [20]

         At the end of the Spring Term of 2012, M.R.E.'s principal at PS 35, Marta Bamett, completed a report card which detailed the claimant's social behavior, AR 260. According to Ms. Bamett, M.R.E. demonstrated a low threshold and tolerance for others, and got "set off very easily." AR 260. She also noted that M.R.E. had a difficult time recovering from spells of frustration. AR 260. Although he had good friends in the class, with whom he interacted on a daily basis, he could, according to Ms. Bamett, stand to "learn to keep an indoor voice and how to keep himself together in a group setting." AR 260.[21]

         b. Records Post-dating Plaintiffs SSI Application

         i. Bellevue Hospital's Child and Adolescent Day Treatment Program

         On July 27, 2012, Ms. McVey noted that the claimant had another good week in school, where he continued to display behavioral improvement. AR 525. M.R.E. acknowledged that he was in better control of his anger, and that he had made many friends at the Bellevue Program whom he would miss upon leaving. AR 525. Ms. McVey, speaking on behalf of the staff, wrote that "we will miss him also, and it's nice to see him mature so nicely." AR 525.

         On August 14, 2012, Dr. Alcera noted that M.R.E. had continued to do well behaviorally, and did not exhibit any tantrums or outbursts over the prior month. AR 527. A mental status examination revealed that M.R.E. had a good mood and full affect. AR 527. The claimant was compliant with his medications and treatment, and got along well with his classmates. AR 527. Writing on August 16, Ms. McVey indicated that M.R.E. had perfect attendance over the previous two weeks, and had "matured as a person" over the course of the Bellevue Program. AR529.

         ii. PS 35 Riverview School

         Ms. Susan Berman, the claimant's second grade teacher at PS 35, noted on a report card that M.R.E had "come a long way since the beginning of the year." AR 289. Although M.R.E. was still working on certain behavioral issues - using his "indoor voice" within the classroom -he was, "for the most part, " able to control himself. AR 289.

         On August 8, 2012, Ms. Berman completed a questionnaire at the request of the SSA. AR 248. She first found that M.R.E.'s ability to acquire and use information was not impaired. AR 249, Next, she found that, generally, M.R.E. had no difficulty attending and completing tasks, but had some trouble finishing his work within a reasonable period of time. AR 250.[22]With respect to interacting and relating with others, M.R.E. had "slight problems" in the categories of playing cooperatively with classmates, seeking attention and expressing anger appropriately, and taking turns in conversation. AR 251, [23] Ms. Berman explained that M.R.E. often helped others in his class, "however sometimes [his] tone need[ed] to be adjusted." AR 251. She found that he could benefit from learning how to use an "indoor voice and a friendly tone when conversing with others." AR 251. Ms. Berman then indicated that M.R.E. had no problems in the domain of moving about and manipulating objects. AR 252.

         With respect to the final domain of functioning, caring for himself or herself, Ms. Berman found that M.R.E. had an "obvious problem" being patient when necessary, and a "slight problem" with respect to handling his frustration and responding appropriately to changes in his mood. AR 253.[24] She noted that M.R.E. "can become very frustrated and drastic changes can occur. He becomes sullen when he doesn't get his way... he has been able to control this more but it's still present." AR 253. On a separate form, also signed and dated August 8, 2012, Ms. Berman indicated that M.R.E.'s reading, writing, and math skills were commensurate with his grade level. AR 256.

         iii. PS 96

         On October 21, 2012, Heather Sutorius, M.R.E.'s third grade teacher at PS 96, completed a questionnaire at the request of the SSA. AR 410. M.R.E. was in an integrated co-teaching ("ICT") class, with twenty-nine other students and two teachers. AR 410.[25] At the time she completed the report Ms. Sutorius had taught the claimant for a period of roughly two months. AR 410.

         Ms. Sutorius found that M.R.E. exhibited "slight problems" in nine of the ten categories listed under the domain of acquiring and using information. AR 411, [26] He had one "obvious problem" with respect to his ability to express ideas in the written form. AR 411. With respect to the domain of attending and completing tasks, Ms. Sutorius indicated that M.R.E. had obvious difficulties working without distraction and in sustaining attention during sports or play activities. AR 412. Generally, however, she indicated that the claimant could be re-focused to task, and had no problems completing his assignments or carrying out simple instructions. AR 412. Otherwise, Ms. Sutorius found that M.R.E. had "slight problems" in a number of other categories, such as paying attention when being spoken to directly and waiting to take turns. AR 412.[27]

         With respect to interacting and relating with others, M.R.E. exhibited "slight problems" in five categories: playing cooperatively with classmates; seeking attention; expressing anger; asking permission appropriately; as well as following rules. AR 413, Otherwise, M.R.E. had "no problem" in each of the eight remaining categories listed on the form. AR 413.[28] Like Ms. Berman, Ms. Sutorius found that M.R.E. had no difficulty in the domain of moving about and manipulating objects. AR 414. As to his ability to care for himself, however, Ms. Sutorius noted that M.R.E. had "slight problems" in five categories, with "no problems" in five others. AR 415, He had slight difficulties handling frustration appropriately; being patient when necessary; identifying and appropriately asserting emotional needs; responding appropriately to change in his mood; and using appropriate coping skills to meet daily demands of the school environment. AR 415.[29]

         iv. Astor Services for Children and Families

         On September 13, 2012, staff members at Astor Services for Children and Families ("Astor Services") in the Bronx, New York, prepared an intake form in connection with M.R.E.'s admission into their comprehensive outpatient program. AR 404. Upon admission, M.R.E. was diagnosed with disruptive behavior disorder and ADHD. AR 404. Atara Hiller, a doctoral intern in psychology with Astor Services, met with M.R.E. for weekly therapy sessions. AR 422. On April 3, 2013, she authored a letter which indicated that the claimant had been diagnosed with ADHD and disruptive behavior disorder; he was then taking Vyvanse, 60 mg, to address these conditions. AR 422.[30] According to Ms. Hiller, although M.R.E. continued to make progress, he still had some difficulty managing his anger, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and ability to focus at home and at school. AR 422. On November 6, 2013, an Astor Services nurse whose name is illegible completed a treatment plan. AR 539. The nurse indicated that M.R.E. possessed a good attitude and was able to complete his work, but continued to suffer from hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention, irritability, and a labile mood. AR 539.

         c. Other Evidence

         i. SSA Consultant: Dr. Altmansberger

         On August 20, 2012, Dr. R. Altmansberger, a non-examining Agency consultant, considered the record that was submitted to date and determined that M.R.E. was not disabled. AR 91. Relying on Ms. Berman's responses to the teacher questionnaire, Dr. Altmansberger determined that M.R.E. had no limitation in the domain of acquiring and using information. AR 89. He then found that M.R.E. suffered from less than marked restrictions in the domain of attending and completing tasks. AR 90. Once again, he based this determination on Ms. Berman's responses to the teacher questionnaire. AR 90. He also relied on notes from the Bellevue Program, citing to a mental status examination on May 16, 2012, wherein Dr. Alcera found that M.R.E. was doing well and was stable on his medication regimen. AR 90. Dr. Altmansberger found that the claimant possessed less than marked restrictions in the domains of interacting and relating with others, health and physical well-being, and caring for himself. AR 90. The consultative doctor concluded that M.R.E. was not limited in the domain of moving about and manipulating objects. AR 90.

         In the narrative section of his report, Dr. Altmansberger explained that by most accounts M.R.E. was doing well, had improved at the Bellevue Program, and was stable on his medication. AR 90. M.R.E.'s mental status examination results, moreover, fell within normal limits. AR 90. The claimant was repeatedly found to be cooperative, not aggressive, and in a euthymic mood. AR 90. In addition to Dr. Alcera's notes, Dr. Altmansberger relied heavily on Ms. Berman's teacher questionnaire. AR 91. Otherwise, the consultative doctor noted, the record lacked any opinionative evidence form any other sources. AR 91.

         ii. Function Report

         On July 24, 2012, Plaintiff completed a Function Report in connection with her son's application for SSI benefits.[31] She indicated that M.R.E, had difficulty making new friends and getting along with her and other adults. AR 230. He would often hit, argue, and lose control, but Plaintiff noted that the program he was then attending - Bellevue - was helping him resolve these issues. AR23O. Plaintiff indicated that M.R.E.'s ability to care for himself was unimpaired. AR 231. She described slight difficulties in M.R.E.'s capacity to pay attention and adhere to tasks; he could keep busy on his own, finish things he started, work on projects, and complete most chores, but not his homework. AR 232.

         iii. August 21, 2013, Hearing

         The first of two administrative hearings was held on August 21, 2013. AR 71. Both Plaintiff and Dr. Sriti Vishan Resicart, a medical expert, testified at the hearing. AR 70. Plaintiff and the claimant did not appear with counsel. AR 72.

         A. Plaintiffs Testimony

          The ALJ first informed Plaintiff of her right to proceed with an attorney, and gave her the option to adjourn the hearing so that she may attempt to find counsel. AR 72. ...


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