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Glover v. Astrue

October 18, 2009

KIM GLOVER O/B/O A.S., PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Andrew J. Wistrich United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

Plaintiff's mother and guardian ad litem filed this action seeking reversal of the decision of defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner"), denying plaintiff's application for child's supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits. The parties have filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") setting forth their contentions with respect to each disputed issue.

Administrative Proceedings

The parties are familiar with the procedural facts, which are summarized in the Joint Stipulation. [See JS 2]. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for child's SSI benefits on February 24, 2004. [JS 2]. Plaintiff was born in October 1994 and was thirteen years old when this action was filed. [Administrative Record ("AR") 15 ]. In a September 28, 2006 hearing decision that constitutes the Commissioner's final decision in this matter, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") denied plaintiff's application for child's SSI benefits on the ground that although plaintiff has severe impairments consisting of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD") and a conduct disorder, those impairments did not meet, medically equal, or functionally equal any impairment or combination of impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "listing"). [AR 17 ].

Standard of Review

The Commissioner's denial of benefits should be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. Stout v. Comm'r Social Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006); Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). "Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005). "It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)(internal quotation marks omitted). The court is required to review the record as a whole and to consider evidence detracting from the decision as well as evidence supporting the decision. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin, 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006); Verduzco v. Apfel, 188 F.3d 1087, 1089 (9th Cir. 1999). "Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld." Thomas, 278 F.3d at 954 (citing Morgan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir.1999)).

Discussion

Standard governing childhood disability A child under the age of 18 is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act "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)(as amended); see 20 C.F.R. § 416.906; see Merrill ex rel. Merrill v. Apfel, 224 F.3d 1083, 1085 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing section 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i)). The regulations governing the evaluation of childhood disability provide that "if the child's impairment or impairments do not meet, medically equal, or functionally equal in severity a listed impairment, the child is not disabled." Brown v. Callahan, 120 F.3d 1133, 1135 (10th Cir. 1997) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.928 (a)); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.902, 416.906, 416.924-416.926a (regulations concerning childhood disability standards).

To meet a listed impairment, a claimant must show that his or her impairment "meet[s] all of the specified medical criteria. An impairment that manifests only some of those criteria, no matter how severely, does not qualify." Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990); see Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1099 (9th Cir. 1999). To medically "equal" a listed impairment, a claimant must present medical findings at least equal in severity and duration to all of the criteria for the most similar listed impairment. See Sullivan, 493 U.S. at 531; Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099-1100; 20 C.F.R. § 416.926 (discussing medical equivalence for adults and children).

If a child disability claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any listing, the ALJ must consider "whether it results in limitations that functionally equal the listings." 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). "Functional equivalence" is determined not by reference to the criteria for any particular listed impairment, but by reviewing all relevant information in the case record, including information from a broad range of medical sources and non-medical sources, to assess the child's functioning in six areas, which are referred to as "domains." See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a. The domains are (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 oneself, and (6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)(i)-(vi). An impairment or combination of impairments functionally equals the listing if, applying criteria detailed in the Commissioner's regulations, it results in "marked" limitations in two of these domains or an "extreme" limitation in one domain. 20 C.F.R. 416.926a(a),(e)-(l).

The ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, and that his impairments did not functionally equal a listed impairment because he had marked limitations in only one functional domain, specifically, interacting and relating with others. The ALJ found that plaintiff had no limitations in moving about and manipulating objects, caring for self or health or physical well-being and less than marked limitations in acquiring and using information and attending and completing tasks. [Ar 15].

Treating Source Opinions

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erroneously ignored (1) diagnoses of depression not otherwise specified ("NOS") and "educational problems" in a psychiatric evaluation report dated March 6, 2002 from the County of San Bernardino Department of Behavioral Health ("San Bernardino Behavioral Health"); (2) a Global Assessment of Function ("GAF") score of 51 in a January 2002 initial assessment report from San Bernardino Behavioral Health, signifying moderate psychiatric symptoms or moderate difficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning; and (3) a January 14, 2004*fn1 assessment form required by the county welfare department to determine plaintiff's eligibility for certain public assistance programs. [See JR 3-5; AR 311-312, 372-376].

Plaintiff filed a prior application for child's SSI benefits that was denied by an ALJ in a hearing decision dated March 5, 2003. After the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of that decision, he did not file an action for judicial review. Instead, plaintiff protectively filed a new ...


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