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I.J.B v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Nevada

November 7, 2019

I.J.B. by and through his guardian ad litem Jennifer Butler, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          DANIEL J. ALBREGTS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for a report of findings and recommendations under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C) and Local Rule IB 1-4. The case involves review of an administrative action by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff I.J.B.'s (“Plaintiff”) application for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. Ch. 7. The Court has reviewed Plaintiff's Motion for Reversal or to Remand (ECF No. 16), filed March 24, 2018, and the Commissioner's Response and Cross-Motion to Affirm (ECF Nos. 18-19), filed April 23, 2018. Plaintiff did not file a Reply.

         I. BACKGROUND

         1. Procedural History

         On February 4, 2013, an application for supplemental security income was protectively filed on Plaintiff's behalf, alleging an onset date of October 1, 2012. AR[1] 220-228. Plaintiff's claim was denied initially, and on reconsideration. AR 107-108. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on July 2, 2015. AR 73-96. On March 21, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim. AR 32-58. The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied review on September 15, 2017. AR 2-7. Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) on November 17, 2017. (See Motion/Application for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No. 1).)

         2. The ALJ Decision

         The ALJ followed the three-step sequential evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924 for child disability cases. AR 32-58. She found Plaintiff was a school-age child on February 4, 2013, the date the application was filed, and an adolescent as of the date of the decision. AR 38. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date. Id. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, history of a cognitive disorder not otherwise specified, and history of a learning disorder not otherwise specified. Id. She also found a speech disorder and encopresis were not medically determinable impairments. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equals the severity of the listings. AR 39. For the six functional equivalence domains, the ALJ found Plaintiff to have less than marked limitation in acquiring and using information, less than marked limitation in attending and completing tasks, no limitation in interacting and relating to others, no limitation in moving about and manipulating objects, no limitation in caring for yourself, and less than marked limitation in health and physical well-being. AR 46-54. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been disabled since February 4, 2013. AR 54.

         II. DISCUSSION

         1. Standard of Review

         Administrative decisions in social security disability benefits cases are reviewed under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Akopyan v. Barnhart, 296 F.3d 852, 854 (9th Cir. 2002). Section 405(g) states: “Any individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing to which he was a party, irrespective of the amount in controversy, may obtain a review of such decision by a civil action . . . brought in the district court of the United States for the judicial district in which the plaintiff resides.” The court may enter “upon the pleadings and transcripts of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” Id. The Ninth Circuit reviews a decision affirming, modifying, or reversing a decision of the Commissioner de novo. See Batson v. Comm'r, 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004).

         The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Ukolov v. Barnhart, 420 F.3d 1002 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Commissioner's findings may be set aside if they are based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence. See Stout v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th Cir. 2006); Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). The Ninth Circuit defines substantial evidence as “more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995); see also Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005). In determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the court “must review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); see also Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996).

         Under the substantial evidence test, findings must be upheld if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. When the evidence will support more than one rational interpretation, the court must defer to the Commissioner's interpretation. See Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005); Flaten v. Sec'y of Health and Human Serv., 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995). Consequently, the issue before the court is not whether the Commissioner could reasonably have reached a different conclusion, but whether the final decision is supported by substantial evidence. It is incumbent on the ALJ to make specific findings so that the court does not speculate as to the basis of the findings when determining if the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Mere cursory findings of fact without explicit statements as to what portions of the evidence were accepted or rejected are not sufficient. Lewin v. Schweiker, 654 F.2d 631, 634 (9th Cir. 1981). The ALJ's findings “should be as comprehensive and analytical as feasible, and where appropriate, should include a statement of subordinate factual foundations on which the ultimate factual conclusions are based.” Id.

         2. Disability Evaluation Process

         For an individual under eighteen years of age to be considered disabled for the purpose of receiving benefits, he must suffer from 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). An impairment meets this requirement if it meets or equals in ...


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