United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
CYNTHIA L.-B. on behalf of I. B.-Y. a minor child,  Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL W. MOSMAN, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
L.-B., on behalf of her minor child I. B.-Y.
("Plaintiff), seeks judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration ("Commissioner") denying
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act ("the Act"). For the reasons
set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED
and this case is REMANDED for further proceedings.
Plaintiffs Application for SSI Benefits
mother, Cynthia L.-B., filed an application for SSI on behalf
of Plaintiff on November 27, 2013. Tr. 18. Plaintiff is
alleged to have been disabled since his birth in April 2011.
Tr. 18. An administrative hearing was held on February 9,
2016, before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Tr. 18.
Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing and a
Medical Expert was the only witness to testify. Tr. 18. The
ALJ held a supplemental hearing on February 25, 2016, in
which Plaintiff was again represented by counsel. Both
Plaintiff and Plaintiffs mother testified at the supplemental
hearing. Tr. 18. The ALJ then issued an opinion finding that
Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 36. Plaintiff timely
requested review by the Appeals Council. Tr. 1. The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff s request for review on September 6,
2017, making the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff was
not disabled the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1.
Plaintiff then timely filed this action challenging the
The Three-Step Analysis
claimant under the age of eighteen is disabled if he 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), a
child's disability claim is assessed according to a
three-step sequential evaluation process. In the first step,
the ALJ must determine whether the child is engaged in
"substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. §
416.924(b). Substantial gainful activity is defined as work
involving significant mental or physical activities of the
sort usually done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. §
416.972. If the child is engaged in substantial gainful
activity, 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. In step two, the ALJ must determine if the child suffers
from a medically determinable impairment that is
"severe." 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 severe impairment, the
analysis proceeds to step three. In step three, the ALJ must
determine if the child's severe impairment meets,
medically equals, or functionally equals one or more of the
presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If an impairment meets the
criteria of a listed impairment, then the child is considered
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d)(1). If the impairment
does not meet, medically equal, or functionally equal the
severity of one or more of the listed impairments, then the
child is not disabled under the Act. 20 C.F.R. §
The ALJ's Findings in This Case
performed the three-step sequential process for determining
whether a child claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.924(a). At step one, the ALJ stated that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the
date of application for benefits. Tr. 21. At step two, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff had two severe impairments:
anxiety disorder and speech disorder. Tr. 21. In finding
these impairments severe, the ALJ placed "great
weight" on the opinion of the Medical Expert, who
testified at the administrative hearing about Plaintiffs
medical record. Id. At the third step, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met, medically equaled, or
functionally equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The
ALJ again gave "great weight" to the Medical
Expert's opinion at step three. Tr. 22. Because the ALJ
determined that Plaintiffs impairments did not meet,
medically equal, or functionally equal the severity of one of
the listed impairments, Plaintiff was not disabled under the
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
the decision is based on proper legal standards and the legal
findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm 'r, 359
F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence
"means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion."
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)
(quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S.
197, 229 (1938)). In reviewing the Commissioner's alleged
errors, a court must weigh "both the evidence that
supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's]
conclusion." Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771,
772 (9th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's interpretation
must be upheld even if the evidence is susceptible to several
rational interpretations. Burch v. Barnhart, 400
F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). The Commissioner's
decision will not be reversed for harmless error.
parties agree that the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinion of
the Medical Expert at step three of the sequential evaluation
process and, therefore, that this case should be remanded to
the Commissioner. The only issue that I must decide is
whether benefits should be awarded immediately upon remand or
whether further proceedings are warranted. Because I am not
convinced that the record has been fully developed, I remand
this case to the Commissioner for further proceedings.