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Batise v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

September 8, 2017

DIETRA BATISE, o/b/o T.M.B (minor), Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CHARLES B. GOODWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Dietra Batise brings this action on behalf of her minor son, T.M.B., pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying Plaintiff's application, based on T.M.B.'s alleged disability, for supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. Doc. No. 13. The Commissioner has answered and filed the administrative record (Doc. No. 11, hereinafter “R.”).[1] The parties have briefed their positions and the case is now ready for decision. For the reasons set forth below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands for further proceedings.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         T.M.B. was born on December 30, 2005. R. 155. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI on September 21, 2012, which was ultimately alleged to be the disability onset date. R. 34, 136-41, 155-64. Following denial of the application initially and on reconsideration, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing. R. 30-60, 61-85, 90-93. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 30, 2015. R. 12-25. The SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's unfavorable decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 4-6; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481. Plaintiff then filed this action for judicial review.

         THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         As relevant here, “[a]n individual under the age of 18 shall be considered disabled . . . if that individual 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). The Commissioner uses a three-step sequential evaluation process to determine a minor child's entitlement to disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). At step one, the ALJ found that T.M.B. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date the application was filed. R. 15. At step two, the ALJ found that T.M.B. has the severe impairments of dysfunction of Eustachian tube with left-ear hearing loss; speech and language impairment; and borderline intellectual functioning. R.

         At step three, the ALJ found that T.M.B. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”). R. 15-16. The ALJ then considered T.M.B.'s ability to function in the six domains set forth in the regulations. R. at 16-24; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924(d), .926a. Specifically, the ALJ assessed T.M.B.'s functioning as follows:

Acquiring and Using Information:

Marked limitation

Attending and Completing Tasks:

Less than marked limitation

Interacting/Relating with Others:

Less than marked limitation

Moving About/Manipulating Objects:

No limitation

Caring for Yourself:

No limitation

Health and Physical Well-Being:

No limitation

R. 19-24. Because a finding that a child's limitations functionally equal the Listings requires a marked limitation in two or more domains, or an extreme limitation in one domain, the ALJ determined that T.M.B. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equaled any of the Listings. R. 24; see 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a).

         Based on his step-three finding, the ALJ concluded that T.M.B. had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since September 21, 2012. R. 24. Accordingly, Plaintiff's application for SSI was denied. R. 25.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether correct legal standards were applied. Poppa v. Astrue, 569 F.3d 1167, 1169 (10th Cir. 2009). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A decision is not based on substantial evidence if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or if there is a mere scintilla of evidence supporting it.” Branum v. Barnhart, 385 F.3d 1268, 1270 (10th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, ” including any evidence “that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings, ” “to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (internal quotation marks omitted). While a reviewing court considers whether the Commissioner followed the applicable rules of law in weighing particular types of evidence in disability cases, the court does not reweigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008).

         ISSUE ON APPEAL

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's step-three finding that T.M.B. has less than marked limitation in the domain of Attending and Completing Tasks is not supported by substantial evidence. Pl.'s Br. (Doc. No. 15) at 14-18.

         ANALYSIS

         The ALJ found that T.M.B. “has less than marked limitation in attending and completing tasks, ” and explained his analysis as follows:

As to the claimant's degree of limitation in this domain, the undersigned concurs with and adopts the findings and opinions of Dr. LaCroix, Dr. Hartley, Dr. Smith, and Dr. Holloway, as set forth in the record, as per their rationale therein set forth (Exhibits 2A; 4A). In November 2012, his teacher opined he was average at following oral instructions; however, in ...

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