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Z.J.F. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 27, 2018

Z.J.F., a minor, by DEBRA M. CONKLING, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY Defendant.

          OLINSKY LAW GROUP HOWARD D. OLINSKY, ESQ. Counsel for Plaintiff

          U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. VERNON NORWOOD, ESQ. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL-REGION II Counsel for Defendant

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          William B. Mitchell Carter U.S. Magistrate Judge

          This matter was referred to me, for all proceedings and entry of a final judgment, pursuant to the Social Security Pilot Program, N.D.N.Y. General Order No. 18, and in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, N.D.N.Y. Local Rule 73.1 and the consent of the parties. (Dkt. Nos. 4, 14.).

         Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Debra M. Conkling (“Plaintiff”) on behalf of a minor, Z.J.F. (“Claimant”) against the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 11, 12.) For the reasons set forth below, it is ordered that Plaintiff's motion be denied and Defendant's motion be granted.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Claimant was born in 2003, at the time of filing Claimant was a school-age child and at the time of the hearing he was an adolescent. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(g)(2). Claimant's alleged disability consists of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”) and bi-polar disorder. (T. 239.)

         B. Procedural History

         On May 21, 2013, Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act on Claimant's behalf. (T. 206.) Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”). On January 16, 2014, and again on March 26, 2015, Plaintiff and Claimant appeared before the ALJ, John P. Ramos. (T. 47-52, 53-73.) On June 1, 2015, ALJ Ramos issued a written decision finding Claimant not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 37-58.) On September 26, 2016, the Appeals Council (“AC”) 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. First, the ALJ found that Claimant was a “school-age child” at the time of filing and an “adolescent” at the time of the hearing pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(g)(2). (T. 23.) Second, the ALJ found that Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date. (Id.) Third, the ALJ found that Claimant suffered from the severe impairments of ADHD, fine motor coordination deficits, disruptive behavior disorder, and bipolar disorder. (Id.) Fourth, the ALJ found that Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I (“the Listings”). (Id.) Fifth, the ALJ found that Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equaled an impairment set forth in the Listings. (T. 23-34.) Sixth, and finally, the ALJ concluded Claimant had not been disabled, as defined by the Social Security Act, since May 21, 2013, the date his application was filed. (T. 34.)

         II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS

         A. Plaintiff's Arguments

         Generally, in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings, Plaintiff makes three arguments. First, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by failing to follow the treating physician rule. (Dkt. No. 11 at 16-18 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by ignoring evidence that Claimant still had symptoms despite his medication and portraying the failure to complete homework as a choice in order to find less than marked limitation in attending and completing tasks. (Id. at 19-22.) Third, and lastly, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by ignoring evidence of Claimant's behavioral problems and claiming he will continue to improve on mediation to find that he had less than marked limitations in interacting and relating with others. (Id. at 22-24.)

         B. Defendant's Argument

         Generally, in support of her cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings, Defendant makes two arguments. Defendant argues the ALJ properly evaluated the opinion of Claimant's treating source, Surendra Johri, M.D. (Dkt. No. 12 at 14-16 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, and lastly, Defendant argues the ALJ reasonably concluded that Claimant's impairments did not functionally equal a listed impairment. (Id. at 16-19.)

         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 ...


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