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Smith v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 20, 2017

KIMBERLY SMITH o/b/o T.L.J., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

          BERNARD A. FRIEDMAN SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is presently before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment [docket entry 22]. Pursuant to E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall decide this motion without a hearing.

         Plaintiff has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to challenge defendant's final decision denying the applications she filed on behalf of her son, “TLJ, ” for Social Security child's disability and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing in July 2014 (Tr. 35-69) and issued a decision denying benefits in September 2014 (Tr. 13-29). This became defendant's final decision in February 2016 when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 3-5).

         In a supplemental brief filed at the Court's request, defendant notes that TLJ received SSI benefits as a child based on a determination that he met the criteria of a listed impairment applicable to children (§ 111.07(A)) for cerebral palsy. When TLJ turned 18 in November 2011, defendant was required by the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(H)(iii), to redertermine his eligibility for disability benefits under the standards applicable to adults. Defendant conducted the required redetermination in June 2012 (Tr. 71-83) and concluded that TLJ is not disabled because he does not meet the criteria of the applicable listings (i.e., for cerebral palsy or learning disorder) and he is able to do simple, light level work. Defendant states that “[p]laintiff did not request further review of this decision, ” Suppl. Br. at 2, and the Court sees nothing in the record to contradict this statement.

         In December 2012, plaintiff filed applications on TLJ's behalf for SSI benefits (Tr. 157-65) and child's insurance benefits (Tr. 166-72). Both applications claim a disability onset date of November 25, 1993, the date of TLJ's birth.[1] It is these applications that are currently at issue, and the legal question raised in both is the same: whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision that TLJ is not disabled because he does not meet the criteria of the applicable listings and because he retains the capacity to do simple, light level work. The Court

must affirm the Commissioner's findings if they are supported by substantial evidence and the Commissioner employed the proper legal standard. White, 572 F.3d at 281 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)); Elam ex rel. Golay v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th Cir. 2003); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Kyle, 609 F.3d at 854 (quoting Lindsley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601, 604 (6th Cir. 2009)). Where the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be upheld even if the record might support a contrary conclusion. Smith v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 893 F.2d 106, 108 (6th Cir. 1989). However, a substantiality of evidence evaluation does not permit a selective reading of the record. “Substantiality of the evidence must be based upon the record taken as a whole. Substantial evidence is not simply some evidence, or even a great deal of evidence. Rather, the substantiality of evidence must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 388 (6th Cir. 1984) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

Brooks v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 531 F. App'x 636, 640-41 (6th Cir. 2013).

         At the time of his July 2014 hearing, TLJ was 20 years old (Tr. 40). He has a high school education and no work experience (Tr. 27).[2] He claims to be disabled since birth due to cerebral palsy and “failure to thrive” (Tr. 196). At the hearing, TLJ's mother also indicated TLJ “doesn't stay on task, he doesn't complete his job” (Tr. 59). The ALJ found that plaintiff's severe impairments are “cerebral palsy; leg length discrepancy; learning disorder; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and borderline intellectual functioning” (Tr. 18). The ALJ also found that TLJ does not meet the criteria of Listings § 11.07 (cerebral palsy), § 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint), § 3.03 (asthma), or § 12.05 (intellectual disability), and that he has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of simple, light level work (Tr. 19-22).[3] Based on testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ concluded that TLJ is not disabled because he could do packaging or sorting/inspecting work within these limitations (Tr. 28).

         Having reviewed the administrative record, defendant's summary judgment motion, and the documents submitted by plaintiff in lieu of a summary judgment motion, the Court concludes that the ALJ's decision in this matter is not supported by substantial evidence.

         First, the ALJ's decision that TLJ does not meet the criteria of Listed Impairment § 11.07 (cerebral palsy) or § 12.05 (intellectual disability) is not supported by substantial evidence.[4]At the time of the ALJ's decision, Listing § 11.07 provided as follows:

11.07 Cerebral palsy. With:
A. IQ of 70 or less; or
B. Abnormal behavior patterns, such as destructiveness or emotional instability; or
C. Significant interference in communication due to speech, hearing, or visual defect; or
D. Disorganization of motor function as described in 11.04B.
And at the time of the ALJ's decision, Listing § 12.05 provided as follows:
12.05 Intellectual disability: Intellectual disability refers to significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning with deficits in adaptive functioning initially manifested during the developmental period; i.e., the evidence demonstrates or supports onset of the impairment before age 22.
The required level of severity for this disorder is met when the requirements in A, B, C, or D are satisfied.
A. Mental incapacity evidenced by dependence upon others for personal needs (e.g., toileting, eating, dressing, or bathing) and inability to follow directions, such that the use of standardized measures of intellectual functioning is precluded;
OR
B. A valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 59 or less;
OR
C. A valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70 and a physical or other mental impairment imposing an additional and significant work-related limitation of function;
OR
D. A valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70, resulting in at least ...

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