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Jones v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

October 27, 2017

REBECCA JONES, on behalf of Mackarius Jones Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Bruce W. Brewer, Attorney for Plaintiff.

          Billy J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Janice E. Hébert, Assistant United States Attorney; United States Attorney's Office, Jeffrey E. Staples, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Attorneys for Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael H. Simon United States District Judge.

         Rebecca Jones, on behalf of her minor son, Mackarius Jones, seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Because the Commissioner's decision was not based on the proper legal standards and the findings were not supported by substantial evidence, the decision is REVERSED and this case is REMANDED for further proceedings.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on the proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Molina v. Astrue, 673 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion” and is more than a “mere scintilla” of the evidence but less than a preponderance. Id. at 1110-11 (quotation omitted). The Court must uphold the ALJ's findings if they “are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record[, ]” even if the evidence is susceptible to multiple rational interpretations. Id. at 1110. The Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Batson v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). “[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotation omitted).

         BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiff's Application

         Ms. Jones filed her child's application for SSI in December 2011, alleging disability as of September 6, 2011. AR 41. Born in 2009, Mackarius Jones was two years old on the date of his application for benefits. AR 44. Ms. Jones alleges disability on behalf of her child due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”). The Commissioner denied her application initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). AR 41. After an administrative hearing, the ALJ found Ms. Jones's child not disabled in a decision dated November 13, 2014. AR 53. The Appeals Council denied Ms. Jones's subsequent request for review on March 22, 2016. AR 1-4. The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner, and Ms. Jones sought review in this Court.

         B. The Sequential Analysis

         A child claimant under the age of 18 is disabled if he or she is can demonstrate “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). Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a), child disability claims are assessed according to a three-step sequential evaluation process:

1. Is the child performing “substantial gainful activity?” 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b). This activity is work involving significant mental or physical duties done or intended to be done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 416.910. If the child is performing such work, he is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b). If the child is not performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis proceeds to step two.
2. Is the child's medically determinable impairment “severe” under the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c). An impairment or combination of impairments is “severe” if it is more than “a slight abnormality or combination of slight abnormalities that causes no more than minimal functional limitations[.]” Id. If the claimant has a medically determinable severe impairment, the analysis proceeds to step three.
3. Does the child's severe impairment “meet, medically equal, or functionally equal” one or more of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? “An impairment(s) causes marked and severe functional limitations if it meets or medically equals the severity of a set of criteria for an impairment in the listings, or if it functionally equals the listings. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d). If so, then the child is disabled. Id. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d). If the impairment does not meet, or medically or functionally equal, one or more of the listed impairments, or does not meet the duration requirement, the child is not disabled under the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d)(2).

         If the child has “a severe impairment or combination of impairments that does not meet or medically equal any listing, [the Commissioner] will decide whether it results in limitations that functionally equal the listings.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). In assessing how the child's functioning is affected in all of the child's activities, the following six domains are considered: (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. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(b)(1). In order to “functionally equal” any listing, the “impairment(s) must be of listing-level severity; i.e., it must result in ‘marked' limitations in two domains of functioning or an ‘extreme' limitation in one domain[.]” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). A “marked” limitation is one that “interferes seriously with your ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities . . . the equivalent of the functioning we would expect to find on standardized testing with scores that are at least two, but less than three, standard deviations below the mean.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). An “extreme” limitation is one that “interferes very seriously with your ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities . . . the equivalent of the functioning we would expect to find on standardized testing with scores that are at least three standard deviations below the mean.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(3)(i).

         C. The ...


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