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Gordon ex rel. A.N.G. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 31, 2018

MONICA GORDON ex rel. A.N.G., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant. [1]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR REMAND

          Thomas M. DiGirolamo United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Monica Gordon on behalf of her minor daughter (“A.N.G.”) seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or the “Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 15) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18).[2] Plaintiff contends that the administrative record does not contain substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision that A.N.G. is not disabled. No hearing is necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 15) is GRANTED.

         I

         Background

         On December 3, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. Upon the parties' consent, this case was transferred to a United States Magistrate Judge for final disposition and entry of judgment. The case subsequently was reassigned to the undersigned. The parties have briefed the issues, and the matter is now fully submitted.

         II

         Summary of ALJ's Decision

         On July 23, 2015, the ALJ found that A.N.G. (1) had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date of October 15, 2012; and (2) had the severe impairments of ADHD predominately hyperactive-impulsive type, oppositional defiance disorder, ADD of childhood with hyperactivity, mood disorder not otherwise specified, and adjustment disorder; but (3) did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments meeting, medically equaling, or functionally equaling one of the impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. R. at 20-31. The ALJ found that A.N.G.'s impairments did not functionally equal a listed impairment because she did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that resulted in either “marked” limitations in two out of six domains of functioning or “extreme” limitation in one domain of functioning. R. at 20-31. Rather, the ALJ found that she had less than marked limitations in acquiring and using information, in attending and completing tasks, and in the ability to care for herself; a marked limitation in interacting and relating with others; and no limitations in moving about and manipulating objects and in health and physical well-being. R. at 23-31. The ALJ accordingly found that A.N.G. was not disabled since October 15, 2012. R. at 31. In so finding, the ALJ gave “great weight” to the opinions of the state agency medical consultants that A.N.G. had less than marked limitation in attending and completing tasks because their opinions were supported by the school records, psychiatric treatment notes, and A.N.G.'s mother. R. at 25. The ALJ found:

[A.N.G.] has shown some positive improvement with medication, with more stable moods and adaptive functioning and increased concentration. In particular, in February 2013, her treatment note states, she responded “very well to the medication, ” but her appetite varies. Despite her improvement, she still attends special education for emotional support and has symptoms of impulsivity, a short attention span, and gets bored easily.

R. at 26 (citations omitted).

         III

         Disability Determinations and Burden of Proof

         An 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); see 20 C.F.R. § 416.906. To determine whether a child has a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act, the Commissioner follows a three-step sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924, 416.926a. The first step is a determination whether the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity. Id. § 416.924(b). If so, benefits are denied; if not, the evaluation continues to the next step. The second step involves a determination whether a claimant's impairment or combination of impairments is severe, i.e., more than a slight abnormality that causes no more than minimal functional limitations. Id. § 416.924(c). If not, benefits are denied; if so, the evaluation continues. The third step involves a determination whether the child has an impairment or impairments that meet, medically equal, or functionally equal in severity a listed impairment. Id. § 416.924(d). If so, and if the duration requirement is met, benefits are awarded; if not, benefits are denied.

         “A child's functioning is determined by looking at six broad areas, or ‘domains, ' in an attempt to evaluate ‘all of what a child can or cannot do.'” Woodhouse ex rel. Taylor v. Astrue, 696 F.Supp.2d 521, 527 (D. Md. 2010) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)). In the domain of “acquiring and using information, ” the Commissioner considers how well a child acquires or learns information, and how well the child uses the learned information. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(g). In the domain of “attending and completing tasks, ” the Commissioner considers how well a child is able to focus and maintain attention and how well the child begins, carries through, and finishes activities. Id. § 416.926a(h). In the domain of “interacting and relating with others, ” the Commissioner considers how well a child initiates and sustains emotional connections with others, develops and uses the language of the child's community, cooperates with others, complies with rules, responds to criticism, and respects and takes care of others' possessions. Id. § 416.926a(i). In the domain of “moving about and manipulating objects, ” relating to a child's gross and fine motor skills, the Commissioner considers how the child moves his or her body from one place to another and how the child moves and manipulates things. Id. § 416.926a(j). In the domain of “caring for yourself, ...


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