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N.M. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

July 24, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, N.M., a minor, brings this action by and through her mother and next friend, Natalie Melrose, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Social Security Administration's final decision finding she was not disabled under the Social Security Act. The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction over this matter by a United States Magistrate Judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The Commissioner filed the Administrative Record (AR) [Doc. No. 14], and both parties have briefed their respective positions.[1] For the reasons stated below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the matter for further proceedings.

         I. Procedural Background

         On November 18, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for supplemental security income. See AR 10. The Social Security Administration denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 62, 70. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated August 29, 2016. AR 7-29. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 1-6. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner. Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of this final agency decision.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the three-step sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations for evaluating the disability of a child. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 18, 2013, the application date. AR 13. At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Id.[2] At step three, the ALJ first found Plaintiff's impairment did not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 13-14. The ALJ next found that Plaintiff's impairment did not functionally equal the severity of the Listings. AR 14-24. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 25.

         III. Issues Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by failing to properly analyze whether she met or medically equaled a Listing. Furthermore, Plaintiff asserts the ALJ should have found that she functionally equaled a Listing.

         IV. Standard of Review

          Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See 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) (quotation 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). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). While the court considers whether the ALJ 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) (quotations and citations omitted).

         V. Analysis

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in his analysis at step three. At step three, the ALJ must determine whether the child claimant has an impairment that meets, medically equals, or functionally equals a Listing. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d). If the child's impairment meets, medically equals, or functionally equals a Listing and meets the durational requirement, the ALJ will find the child disabled at step three. Id. If those criteria are not met, the ALJ will find the child is not disabled. Id.

         A. The ALJ Failed to Properly Analyze Whether Plaintiff Met or Medically Equaled a Listing

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ failed to make detailed findings regarding whether she met or medically equaled Listing 112.11. Pl's Br. 9-11. Listing 112.11, for ADHD, requires medical evidence of marked inattention, marked impulsiveness, and marked hyperactivity and “at least two of the appropriate age-group criteria in paragraph B2 of [Listing] 112.02.” 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, § 112.11. The “appropriate age-group criteria” are marked impairment in age- appropriate cognitive/communicative function documented by medical findings, marked impairment in age-appropriate social functioning documented by history and medical findings, marked impairment in ...

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