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Mathis ex rel. J.T. v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

February 25, 2015

TARIA MATHIS on behalf of J.T., Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


JANET F. KING, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff in the above-styled case brings this action on behalf of her son, a child under the age of 18, pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).[1] Plaintiff seeks to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration which denied her application for supplemental security income. For the reasons set forth below, the court ORDERS that the Commissioner's decision be REVERSED and that the case be REMANDED for further proceedings.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff Taria Mathis filed an application for supplemental security income on behalf of her son, J.T., on August 27, 2009. [Record ("R.") at 12, 55-56, 117]. The claimant is a child who allegedly became disabled on January 19, 2006, due to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning. [Id.]. After Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, an administrative hearing was held on October 12, 2011. [R. at 12, 27-54]. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application on February 3, 2012, and the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 24, 2013. [R. at 3-6, 9-26]. Plaintiff filed her complaint in this court on behalf of her son, the claimant, on August 26, 2013, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. [Doc. 3].

II. Facts

The claimant was born on March 15, 2001, and was a school-age child on August 27, 2009, the date the disability application was filed. [R. at 15]. The ALJ found that the claimant has attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, and oppositional defiant disorder. [Id.]. Although these impairments are "severe" within the meaning of the Social Security regulations, the ALJ found that the claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. [R. at 15]. The ALJ further found that the limitations resulting from the claimant's impairments do not functionally equal those in the Listings. [R. at 16-22]. The ALJ, therefore, found that the claimant has not been under a disability since the application was filed. [R. at 23].

The decision of the ALJ [R. at 12-22] states the relevant facts of this case as modified herein as follows:

Records from Babies Can't Wait show that the claimant had speech and language delays at age two. There were notes regarding asthma with use of an inhaler. He received treatment for these, and at the hearing, his mother conceded that these impairments had resolved. (Exhibit 1F).

Kids First Pediatric Group records note that the claimant was diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD") in March 2006. Adderall was prescribed. He was not seen again until April 16, 2007. He had not been taking medications because he had not been seen since March 2006. The claimant was to take Adderall for 30 days and receive behavioral therapy. (Exhibit 2F).

The claimant received care for asthma at Jonesboro Pediatrics. Additionally, he had treatment for a laceration, viral syndrome, and other routine illnesses that resolved. Notes dated February 19, 2009, state that the claimant was doing well. He was active and playful. Focalin was prescribed for his ADHD. (Exhibits 3F, 6F, 10F and 11F). Notes from Mindful Strategies showed that the claimant had counseling sessions in an attempt to aid in reducing his ADHD symptoms. (Exhibit 15F).

The claimant's mother alleged that he had significant behavioral problems. He was identified as having symptoms of ADHD in 2006, but no treatment was recommended at that time. (Exhibit 2F). The claimant was in a regular classroom. His mother stated that the claimant was disrespectful to authority figures. She said that the claimant had a bad temper and would hit the wall with his fist.

Intelligence testing found consistently that the claimant had below average intelligence. (Exhibits 4F and 16F). However, the claimant's scores do not fall in the mentally retarded range, and although he received special services, he was never retained. The claimant's fourth grade teacher noted that the claimant was below grade level in performance. (Exhibit 18F). He has a serious problem in this area. He had been considered for special services for specific learning disability. (Exhibit 16F). However, it appeared that the poor achievement was the result of emotional/behavioral problems (which were identified first) rather than intellectual deficits.

Teacher questionnaires, counseling notes, and pediatric notes show that the claimant had daily problems attending and completing tasks. (Exhibit 12F). The claimant was easily distracted and required one-on-one assistance. He was disruptive in class, talking out of turn, and making noises irrelevant to the content discussed. He had to be redirected to task every few minutes, and he required short assignments. (Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 09-04p).

A behavior plan was implemented at school to attempt to correct the claimant's poor behavior choices. He had a serious problem following rules. (Exhibits 12F, 15F, and 19F; SSR 09-5p). School records indicate that the claimant does not demonstrate consistent control over his behavior. He did not cooperate in being responsible for taking his medications or returning his assignments to school. (Exhibits 12F, 15F, and 19F; SSR 09-7p). The claimant's medications have not caused any difficulties; in fact, the claimant is able to function better with medications. (SSR 09-8p).

Additional facts will be set forth as necessary during discussion of Plaintiff's arguments.

III. Standard of Review

Social Security law provides that an individual under the age of eighteen will be 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 impairment or impairments must result from anatomical, psychological, or physiological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382c(a)(3)(D).

Social Security regulations provide a sequential evaluation process consisting of three steps when determining if a child is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. The first step requires the ALJ to determine whether the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity. A child is not disabled if he is engaged in such activity. Id. If the child is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, then the ALJ must determine at the second step whether the child has a severe impairment. Id. A child who does not have a severe impairment will be found not disabled. If a severe impairment is found, then the ALJ must determine ...

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