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Llanas v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

July 7, 2017

ELVERA LLANAS, on behalf of R.I.P., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE AND REMAND AND REMANDING TO AGENCY FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

          KEVIN R. SWEAZEA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's determination that her minor son, R.P., is not disabled under Section 1614');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4(a)(3)(C) of the Social Security Act. With the consent of the parties to conduct dispositive proceedings in this matter, see 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 7');">7');">7');">73(b), the Court has examined the administrative record as a whole and considered Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse and Remand for Payment of Benefits, or in the Alternative, for Rehearing, filed December 21, 2016 [Doc. No. 18], the Commissioner's response in opposition, filed May 26, 2017');">7');">7');">7 [Doc. No. 32], and Plaintiff's reply, filed June 16, 2017');">7');">7');">7 [Doc. No. 33]. Having so considered, the Court FINDS and CONCLUDES that Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse and Remand for Payment of Benefits is not well-taken and should be denied. The Court further FINDS and CONCLUDES that Plaintiff's alternative Motion for Remand for Rehearing is well-taken and should be granted.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         R.P. was born on April 15, 2000. In April of 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income (SSI) on R.P.'s behalf, alleging that her son had been disabled since October 20, 2006, due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a learning disability, and speech problems. [Doc. No.15-12, p. 6');">p. 6]. An administrative review of the application noted “severe impairments” in the form of ADHD and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); however, on September 2, 2010, it was determined that R.P.'s impairments did not meet or equal a listing and the claim was denied. [Doc. No.15-7');">7');">7');">7, p. 3]. This determination was affirmed on February 2, 2011 [Doc. No. 15-7');">7');">7');">7, 4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">p.4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4], and a subsequent hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), held on February 15, 2012, again, ended in a denial [Doc. No. 15-7');">7');">7');">7, pp.8-21].

         Upon the request of Plaintiff, the Appeals Council reviewed the ALJ's decision and determined that further evaluation was necessary due to the submission of new and material evidence. [Doc. No. 15-7');">7');">7');">7, p.27');">7');">7');">7]. On October 24');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4, 2013, the matter was remanded to the ALJ with instructions to obtain further evidence regarding R.P.'s hearing and mental impairments and to evaluate the severity of the same. [Doc. No. 15-7');">7');">7');">7, pp. 28-29].

         Pursuant to the mandate of the Appeals Council, a second hearing was held on December 18, 2014');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4, during which ALJ Barry O'Melinn[1] heard testimony from both Petitioner and R.P. Following the hearing, the record remained open pending the submission of updated school records and teacher questionnaires. These documents were received in January of 2015, and the unfavorable decision underlying the case at bar was issued on March 26, 2015.

         II. STANDARD

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether the findings of the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence. 4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">42 U.S.C. §4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">405(g); Hendron v. Colvin, 7');">7');">7');">767');">7');">7');">7 F.3d 951');">7');">7');">7');">767');">7');">7');">7 F.3d 951, 954');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4 (10th Cir. 2014');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Langley v. Barnhart, 37');">7');">7');">73 F.3d 1116, 1118 (10th Cir. 2004');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or constitutes mere conclusion.” Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257');">7');">7');">7, 1262 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court must examine 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.” Id. Even so, it is not the function of the Court to review Plaintiff's claims de novo, and the Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Glass v. Shalala, 4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">43 F.3d 1392');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">43 F.3d 1392, 1395 (10th Cir. 1994');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Disability Framework

         A child is considered disabled within the meaning of the Social Security 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.” 4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i).

         When evaluating whether a child falls within this standard, an ALJ employs a sequential three-step process to determine whether (1) the child is engaged in substantial, gainful activity; (2) the child has an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe; and (3) the child's impairment, either alone or in combination with another impairment, meets or equals an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">404');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4, subpt. P, App. 20 C.F.R. § 4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">416.924');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4(a). If, in the third step, it is determined that the child has a severe impairment, or combination thereof, that does not meet or medically equal a listing, the ALJ must then determine whether the impairment(s) functionally equal a listing. 20 C.F.R. § 4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">416.926a(a).

         A child's impairment functionally equals a listing when it results in “marked limitations in two domains of functioning or an extreme limitation in one domain.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). As set forth in 20 CFR 4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">416.926a(e)(2)-(3), a limitation will be deemed “marked” if it seriously interferes with the child's ability to “independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities, ” while a limitation that “very seriously” interferes in such a manner is considered “extreme.” A functionality analysis requires the ALJ to consider how the child functions in terms of six (6) domains, to wit: “(i) acquiring and using information; (ii) attending and completing tasks; (iii) interacting and relating with others; (iv) moving about and manipulating objects; (v) caring for [his or her self]; and (vi) health and physical well-being.” 20 C.F.R. § 4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">4');">416.926a(b)(1).

         B. The ...


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