United States District Court, D. New Mexico
PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED
HONORABLE CARMEN E. GARZA CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Ryan
Christopher Rodgers' Motion to Reverse and Remand for
Payment of Benefits, or in the Alternative, for Rehearing,
With Supporting Memorandum (the “Motion”),
(Doc. 17), filed March 20, 2018; Defendant's Brief in
Response to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand
Commissioner's Administrative Decision (the
“Response”), (Doc. 19), filed May 21, 2018; and
Mr. Rodgers' Reply to Brief in Response to Motion to
Remand (the “Reply”), (Doc. 20), filed June
4, 2018. United States District Judge Martha Vazquez referred
this case to Magistrate Judge Carmen E. Garza to perform
legal analysis and recommend an ultimate disposition. (Doc.
October 18, 2013, Becky Pritchett applied for supplemental
security income on behalf of her child, Ryan Christopher
Rodgers, who was not yet 18 years old. (Administrative Record
“AR” 15). Ms. Pritchett alleged Mr. Rodgers'
disability began on January 1, 2007, and is due to attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”),
adjustment disorder with depression, bipolar mania, and
schizophrenia. (AR 227-28). The claim was denied initially on
February 26, 2014, and upon reconsideration on October 6,
2014. (AR 15). A request for a hearing was filed, and a
hearing was held on August 15, 2016, before Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) Deirdre O. Dexter. (AR
41).Mr. Rodgers and Bonnie Ward, an impartial
vocational expert (“VE”), testified at the
hearing, and Michelle Baca, an attorney, represented Mr.
Rodgers at the hearing. (AR 41-71).
September 28, 2016, the ALJ issued her decision, finding that
Mr. Rodgers was not disabled either prior to or after the
date he turned 18 years old. (AR 35). Mr. Rodgers requested
review by the Appeals Council, which was denied, (AR 1-5),
making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final
decision for purposes of this appeal.
Rodgers, who is now represented by Francesca MacDowell,
argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to properly
consider Mr. Rodgers' limitations in assessing his
functioning as an adolescent; and (2) failing to properly
consider the medical opinion evidence regarding Mr.
Rodgers' mental limitations in determining his residual
functional capacity (“RFC”). (Doc. 17 at 5-26).
The Court has reviewed the Motion, the Response, the Reply,
and the relevant law. Additionally, the Court has
meticulously reviewed the administrative record. Because the
Court finds that the ALJ failed to properly consider Mr.
Rodgers' limitations in her assessment of his functioning
as an adolescent, and erred in considering the medical
opinion evidence in determining his RFC, the Court recommends
that Mr. Rodgers' motion be GRANTED and
this case be REMANDED to the Commissioner
for further proceedings.
Standard of Review
standard of review in a Social Security appeal is whether the
Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the correct legal standards were
applied. Maes v. Astrue, 522 F.3d 1093, 1096 (10th
Cir. 2008); Hamilton v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98 (10th Cir. 1992). If
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings
and the correct legal standards were applied, the
Commissioner's decision stands and the plaintiff is not
entitled to relief. Langley v. Barnhart, 373 F.3d
1116, 1118 (10th Cir. 2004); Hamlin v. Barnhart, 365
F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004); Doyal v. Barnhart,
331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th Cir. 2003). The Commissioner's
“failure to apply the correct legal standards, or show
. . . that she has done so, are grounds for reversal.”
Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1019 (10th Cir.
1996) (citing Washington v. Shalala, 37 F.3d 1437,
1439 (10th Cir. 1994)). A court should meticulously review
the entire record but should neither re-weigh the evidence
nor substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's.
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118; Hamlin, 365 F.3d
at 1214. A court's review is limited to the
Commissioner's final decision, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
which is generally the ALJ's decision, rather than the
Appeals Council's denial of review. O'Dell v.
Shalala, 44 F.3d 855, 858 (10th Cir. 1994).
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118; Hamlin, 365 F.3d
at 1214; Doyal, 331 F.3d at 760. An ALJ's
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.
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118; Hamlin, 365 F.3d
at 1214. While the Court may not re-weigh the evidence or try
the issues de novo, its examination of the record
must include “anything that may undercut or detract
from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if the
substantiality test has been met.” Grogan v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1262 (10th Cir. 2005).
“The possibility of drawing two inconsistent
conclusions from the evidence does not prevent [the
ALJ]'s findings from being supported by substantial
evidence.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084
(10th Cir. 2007) (citing Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372
F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004)).
Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
purposes of supplemental security income (“SSI”),
a child under the age of eighteen is “disabled”
when he “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.”
Briggs ex rel. Briggs v. Massanari, 248 F.3d 1235,
1237 (10th Cir. 2001) (citing 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(C)(i)). In light of this definition for
disability, a three-step sequential evaluation process has
been established for evaluating a child's disability
claim. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a); Briggs, 248 F.3d
at 1237. The ALJ “must determine, in this order, (1)
that the child is not engaged in substantial gainful
activity, (2) that the child has an impairment or combination
of impairments that is severe, and (3) that the child's
impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in Appendix
1, Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404.” Briggs,
248 F.3d at 1237 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)).
step three, the impairment does not meet or equal a listed
impairment, the ALJ must determine if the limitations caused
by the child's impairments are functionally equivalent to
a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. 416.926a. The
“functionally equivalent” analysis requires the
ALJ to assess the child's functioning in terms of six
domains: (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 self; and (6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.926a(b)(1)(i)-(vi); Briggs, 248 F.3d at
1238. If the child is extremely limited in one domain, or
markedly limited in two domains, the impairment is
functionally equivalent to the relevant listing and the child
is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). A limitation is
marked if the “impairment(s) interferes seriously with
[the] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete
activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). A
limitation is extreme if the “impairment(s) interferes
very seriously with [the] ability to independently initiate,
sustain, or complete activities.” 20 C.F.R. §
claim for SSI as an adult, a person eighteen years or older
establishes a disability when he is unable “to engage
in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment 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. § 423(d)(1)(A), 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a). In light
of this definition for disability, a five-step sequential
evaluation process has been established for evaluating an
adult's disability claim. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920;
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987).
first four steps of the sequential evaluation process, the
claimant has the burden to show that: (1) he is not engaged
in “substantial gainful activity”; (2) he has a
“severe medically determinable . . . impairment . . .
or a combination of impairments” that has lasted or is
expected to last for at least one year; and (3) his
impairment(s) either meet or equal one of the
“Listings” of presumptively disabling impairments; or
(4) he is unable to perform his “past relevant
work.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i-iv);
Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261. If the ALJ determines the
claimant cannot engage in past relevant work, the ALJ will
proceed to step five of the evaluation process. At step five
the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show the
claimant is able to perform other work in the national
economy, considering the claimant's RFC, age, education,
and work experience. Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1257.
October 18, 2013, Becky Pritchett applied for SSI on behalf
of her son, Ryan Christopher Rodgers, due to ADHD, adjustment
disorder with depression, bipolar mania, and schizophrenia.
(AR 14, 227-28). Because Mr. Rodgers was under the age of
eighteen when he applied for SSI, and turned eighteen during
these proceedings, the ALJ determined whether Mr. Rodgers was
disabled under the standards for both children and adults.
Beginning with the sequential evaluation process for a person
under the age of eighteen, at step one the ALJ found that Mr.
Rodgers had not engaged in substantial gainful activity. (AR
19). At step two, the ALJ found Mr. Rodgers had the following
severe impairments: ADHD, personality disorder, and affective
disorder. (AR 20).
then proceeded to step three. First, the ALJ determined that
Mr. Rodgers' impairments did not meet or medically equal
any of the listed impairments. (AR 20). She then found that
Mr. Rodgers did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that functionally equaled any of the listings.
Id. In making her determination, the ALJ stated that
Mr. Rodgers' medically determinable impairments could
reasonably be expected to produce the alleged symptoms,
however Mr. Rodgers' statements concerning the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms were not
consistent with the medical and other evidence in the record.
(AR 22). The ALJ based this finding on testimony given at the
hearing, child function reports completed by Mr. Rodgers'
mother, teacher reports, and medical records and opinions.
considered the same evidence to make her functional
equivalence finding. In terms of the six domains, the ALJ
found that Mr. Rodgers had less than marked limitations in
acquiring and using information; less than marked limitations
in attending and completing tasks; less than marked
limitations in interacting and relating with others; no
limitations in moving about and manipulating objects; less
than marked limitations in the ability to care for himself;
and no limitations in health and physical well-being. (AR
24-30). Accordingly, she found that Mr. Rodgers was not
disabled under the Social Security Act before the day he
turned eighteen. (AR 30).
the ALJ analyzed whether Mr. Rodgers was disabled after
reaching the age of eighteen. She began with step two, noting
that Mr. Rodgers had not developed any new impairments since
attaining age eighteen, and that Mr. Rodgers continues to
have severe impairments. (AR 30-31). At step three, the ALJ
again determined that none of Mr. Rodgers' impairments,
solely or in combination, met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(d). (AR 31).
proceeded to step four. She found that, since attaining age
eighteen, Mr. Rodgers has the residual functional capacity to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, with
the following nonexertional limitations: he can perform
simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, but not at a
fast-paced production rate; the job should not require strict
production quotas or involve close, over-the-shoulder type
supervision; Mr. Rodgers cannot set his own work goals or
make work plans independently of others; the job should not
involve more than ordinary and routine changes in work
setting or work duties; Mr. Rodgers is able to make simple,
work-related decisions; Mr. Rodgers is able to occasionally
interact with supervisors as needed to receive work
instructions; he is able to work in proximity to co-workers,
but should have no more than occasional direct work
interaction with co-workers; and he should never interact
with the general public. Id. The ALJ noted that Mr.
Rodgers has no past relevant work, and moved on to step five.
stated that Mr. Rodgers is a “younger individual age
18-44” as defined by the Regulations, has a limited
education, and is able to communicate in English.
Id. The ALJ stated the VE testified at the hearing
that an individual with Mr. Rodgers' same age, education,
work experience, and RFC could perform the following
representative occupations: dishwasher, industrial cleaner,
bakery racker. (AR 34). After finding the VE's testimony
to be consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles,
the ALJ concluded that, considering Mr. Rodgers' age,
education, and transferable work skills, a finding of
“not disabled” is appropriate under the framework
of section 204.00 of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines.
Id. Therefore, the ALJ found Mr. Rodgers has not
been disabled since the day he turned 18 through the date of
the decision, pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924(g)
and 416.920(g). Id.
The ALJ's Assessment of Mr. Rodgers' ...