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Romero v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 20, 2019

JULIETTE ROMERO, O/B/O J.T.R, a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SUZANNE MITCHELL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Juliette Romero brings this action on behalf of her minor son, J.T.R., pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying her claim for J.T.R.'s supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The parties have consented under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. Docs. 8, 14.[1] After a careful review of the record (AR), the parties' briefs, and the relevant authority, the court reverses the Commissioner's decision.

         I. Administrative determination.

         A. Disability standard.

         A person under the age of eighteen is disabled within the meaning of the Act if he or she “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); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.906. No. individual under the age of eighteen will be considered disabled if he or she is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(ii).

         The Social Security Regulations establish a three-step sequential evaluation to determine whether an individual under the age of eighteen is disabled under Title XVI of the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924; Briggs ex rel. Briggs v. Massanari, 248 F.3d 1235, 1237 (10th Cir. 2001). At step one, the Commissioner must determine whether the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity. If the answer is no, the inquiry proceeds to the second step. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a), (b). At step two, the Commissioner must determine whether the child has an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe. If the impairment or combination of impairments is not severe, the inquiry is at an end. Id. § 416.924(a), (c). If it is severe, the Commissioner must ask whether the child's impairment meets, medically equals, or functionally equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, and meets the durational requirement. Id. § 416.924(a) and (d); see also Briggs, 248 F.3d at 1237.

         To meet a listing, the ALJ must determine whether a child's impairment or combination of impairments “satisfies all of the criteria of that listing, including any relevant criteria in the introduction, and meets the duration requirement.”[2] 20 C.F.R. § 416.925(c)(3). If a child's impairment fails to meet all the criteria, the ALJ must determine whether the child's impairment “medically equal[s] the criteria of a listing.” Id. § 416.925(c)(5). Medical equivalency can be found if an impairment “is at least equal in severity and duration to the criteria of any listed impairment.” Id. § 416.926(a). Even if a child “do[es] not exhibit one or more of the findings specified” for the particular listing examined, or “one or more of the findings is not as severe as specified, ” but there are “other findings related to [the] impairment that are at least of equal medical significance to the required criteria, ” then medical equivalency can still be found. Id. § 416.926(b)(1)(i)-(ii).

         If the ALJ determines that a child's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or medically equal a listing, then functional equivalencies must be considered. Id. § 416.926a(a). To determine functional equivalency the ALJ must analyze the evidence in terms of each of the six domains of functioning: 1) acquiring and using information; 2) attending and completing tasks; 3) interacting and relating with others; 4) moving about and manipulating objects; 5) caring for yourself; and 6) health and physical well-being. Id. § 416.926a(a), (b)(1). Functionally to equal a listing an impairment must cause “marked” limitations in two domains of functioning or an “extreme” limitation in one domain. Id. § 416.926a(a).

         B. Relevant findings.

         1. Administrative Law Judge's findings.

         The ALJ assigned to J.T.R.'s case applied the standard regulatory analysis in order to decide whether J.T.R. was disabled during the relevant timeframe. AR 11-25; see 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). The ALJ found J.T.R.:

(1) was born on February 2, 2005 and was a school-aged child on May 11, 2016, the date the application was filed, and at the time of the decision;
(2) had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 11, 2016;
(3) had the following severe impairments: attention deficit hyperactive disorder; posttraumatic stress disorder; anxiety disorder, and oppositional defiance disorder;
(4) had no impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments;
(5) had no impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equaled the severity of the listings; and
(6) had not been disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act, since May 11, 2016, the date the ...

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