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Nicolas Allen Snyder, By and Through His Guardian Ad Litem, Angelina Walker v. Commissioner of Social Security

April 1, 2013

NICOLAS ALLEN SNYDER, BY AND THROUGH HIS GUARDIAN AD LITEM, ANGELINA WALKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff Nicolas Allen Snyder (hereafter "plaintiff"), by and through his guardian ad litem Angelina Walker, seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act").*fn1 In his motion for summary judgment, plaintiff principally contends that the Commissioner erred by finding that plaintiff was not disabled from November 8, 2008, the date that his SSI application was filed, through the date of the final administrative decision. (Dkt. No. 18.)

The Commissioner filed an opposition to plaintiff's motion and a cross-motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 21.) For the reasons discussed below, the court grants plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in part, denies the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, remands the case for further proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and enters judgment for plaintiff.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on October 20, 1998, and was a seventh grader in middle school at the time of the final administrative decision.*fn2 (Administrative Transcript ("AT") 19, 86-87, 159.) On November 8, 2008, plaintiff's mother applied for SSI on his behalf, alleging that plaintiff was disabled as of August 1, 2002, primarily due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD") and other mental impairments. (AT 15, 86-87, 159, 200, 204.) On May 8, 2009, the Commissioner determined that plaintiff was not disabled. (AT 15, 86.) Upon plaintiff's request for reconsideration, the determination was affirmed on July 22, 2009. (AT 15, 87.) Thereafter, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), which took place on September 21, 2010, and at which both plaintiff and his mother testified. (AT 15, 41-71.)

In a decision dated October 28, 2010, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from the SSI application date of November 8, 2008, through the date of that decision. (AT 15-30.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on November 22, 2011. (AT 1-6.) Thereafter, plaintiff filed this action in federal district court on January 24, 2012, to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (Dkt. Nos. 1-3.)

II. ISSUES PRESENTED

Plaintiff has raised the following issues: (1) whether the ALJ failed to address the non-medical source opinions of plaintiff's teachers Chavez, Duran, and Metz; (2) whether the ALJ improperly failed to credit the testimony of plaintiff's mother; (3) whether the ALJ erred in finding that plaintiff did not meet, medically equal, or functionally equal Listing 112.08; and (4) whether the ALJ failed to appropriately develop the record and seek an updated medical opinion pursuant to Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 96-6p.*fn3

III. LEGAL STANDARDS

Standard of Review The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). "The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation." Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).

Sequential Evaluation for Childhood Disability Claims

An individual under the age of 18 is considered disabled if 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." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). The regulations prescribe a three-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a child's impairment or combination of impairments results in marked and severe functional limitations:

(1) Is the child engaged in substantial gainful activity? If so, the child is not disabled, regardless of his medical condition, age, education, or work experience. If not, the analysis proceeds to step two. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a), (b).

(2) Does the child have a medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments that is severe, i.e., that causes more than minimal functional limitations? If not, the child is not disabled. If so, the analysis proceeds to step three. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a), (c).

(3) Does the child's impairment or combination of impairments meet, medically equal, or functionally equal a listing? If not, the child is not disabled. If so, and the duration requirement is satisfied, the child is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a), (d).

To meet or medically equal a listing, the child's impairment(s) must meet or medically equal a set of criteria for the particular impairment as outlined in the Listings, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d); Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990) ("For a claimant to show that his impairment matches a listing, it must meet all of the specified medical criteria.").

To determine whether a child's impairment(s) functionally equals a listing, the ALJ must assess the functional limitations caused by the child's impairment(s) in six domains:

(i) acquiring and using information; (ii) attending and completing tasks; (iii) interacting and relating with others; (iv) moving about and manipulating objects; (v) caring for yourself; and (vi) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a), (b)(1). A child's impairment(s) functionally equals a listing when it is of listing-level severity, i.e., if it results in "marked" limitations (limitations that interfere seriously with the child's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities) in at least two domains of functioning, or "extreme" limitations (limitations that interfere very seriously with the child's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities) in at least one domain of functioning. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a), (e).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Summary of the ALJ's Findings

The ALJ evaluated plaintiff's entitlement to SSI pursuant to the above-mentioned three-step analytical framework. At the first step, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 8, 2008, plaintiff's SSI application date. (AT 18.) At step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder.*fn4 (Id.) However, at the third step, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals a listed impairment; in particular, Listings 112.08 (personality disorders) and 112.11 (ADHD). (Id.) Additionally, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equals a listing. (Id.) In performing the functional equivalence analysis, the ALJ assessed plaintiff's functional limitations across the six domains and found that plaintiff had marked limitation in interacting and relating with others, but less than ...

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