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Fleetwood v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

May 11, 2015

LISA FLEETWOOD O/B/O C.F., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant

For Lisa Fleetwood, o/b/o Corey Fleetwood, Plaintiff: David B. Green, LEAD ATTORNEY, Green & Greenberg, Providence, RI USA.

For Carolyn Colvin, in her official capacity, Defendant: Zachary A. Cunha, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the U.S. Attorney, Providence, RI USA.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

John J. McConnell, Jr., United States District Judge.

Before the Court is Plaintiff Lisa Fleetwood's Motion to Reverse and/or Remand the denial of her minor child C.F.'s application for Supplemental Security Income (" SSI" ) under the Social Security Act (" the Act" ). (ECF No. 8). Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, moves to dismiss, arguing that the Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) correctly rejected the minor child's application. (ECF No. 14). Because the Court finds that the ALJ's finding is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, it reverses his decision and remands for further proceedings.

I. FACTS

C.F. was born in October 2002. He is twelve years old. He was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (" ADHD" ) and a learning disorder, noted in his medical records as early as 2009. (Tr. at 302-304). His Global Assessment of Functioning (" GAF" ) at discharge from Gateway Healthcare, Inc. in March of 2012 was only 49.[1] Dr. Henry Mann, his treating physician, noted on February 20, 2012 that C.F. has bipolar disorder, ADHD, and marked learning problems. ( Id. at 220). He noted that he is depressed and feels hopeless, with the background stressor being school. ( Id. at 389). In November 2012, Dr. Mann wrote a letter of support for C.F., in which he noted, " [b]ecause of the nature of his disability, bipolar disorder, he may be highly reactive to certain kinds of provocations including that of being teased and demeaned by his peers." ( Id. at 482). C.F. was prescribed various medications, home therapy, and counseling to attempt to address his disability. ( Id. at 351-375). In January 2013, as Dr. Mann continued to search for the right medication for C.F., he wrote, " [g]iven the significant amount of pressure on (C.F.) with his learning disabilities and the pressures at school....it is hard to imagine that we can reach an ideal state of mood stabilization." ( Id. at 483).

C.F. also received treatment from several therapists and clinicians at Family Solutions and The Kent Center for his ADHD and mood disorders, ( Id. at 351-375, 412-481). He made slow progress at Family Solutions in reducing impulsive behaviors and improving socialization. ( Id. at 408-411). Mary Jean Zaroogian at The Kent Center noted in January of 2013 that C.F only made minimal progress in managing his behavior and mood. ( Id. at 489).

Ms. Fleetwood filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (" SSI" ) under the Act on behalf of her son with an alleged disability onset date of October 19, 2010 when he was eight years old. ( Id. at 11, 115-123). In his application, he listed severe attention deficient hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar, and mood disorder as his disabilities. ( Id. at 138). Following the denial of her claim both initially and on reconsideration, Ms. Fleetwood requested a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on January 28, 2013. ( Id. at 11). By the time of the ALJ hearing, C.F. was ten years old and in the fourth grade. He was receiving failing grades and failed the second quarter of his fourth grade year. ( Id. at 42). Ms. Fleetwood appeared at this hearing with counsel, and offered her own testimony. ( Id. at 11).

The ALJ found in a February 15, 2013 decision that C.F. had the severe impairments of ADHD, learning disorders, mood disorder, and bed-wetting, but that he was not disabled, denying his application. ( Id. at 11-26). Ms. Fleetwood sought review before the Appeals Council. Her appeal was denied, rendering the ALJ's determination the final decision of the Commissioner. ( Id. at 3-5). This action followed.

The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the ALJ's decision. The single question in this appeal is whether the ALJ erred in finding that C.F. was not disabled because he did not have a marked limitation in attending and completing tasks.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Review of a final decision of the Commissioner is authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides the Court with the " power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the case for a rehearing." If any finding is " supported by substantial evidence" it shall be " conclusive." Id. The findings of fact " are not conclusive when derived by ignoring evidence, misapplying the law, or judging matters entrusted to experts." Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999). If the Court finds that the ALJ has erred, it may award benefits or affirm a denial of benefits. Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 11 (1st Cir. 2001) " If an essential factual issue has not been resolved ... and there is no clear entitlement to benefits, the court must remand for further proceedings." Id.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has stated that the Commission should ensure that a just outcome is achieved in Social Security disability claims, since the Social Security Act is remedial legislation to be construed liberally to achieve its purpose of easing the insecurity of life. Pelletier v. Secretary, 525 F.2d 158, 161 (1st Cir. 1975); Rodriguez v. Celebrezze, 349 F.2d 494, 496 (1st Cir. 1965). " [T]he law was not intended to deal injustices to a needy petitioner in social security cases." Miller v. Harris, 490 F.Supp. 1184, 1186 (W.D. Pa. 1980). A claimant need not prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt, Ziskin v. Weinberger, 379 F.Supp. 124, 128 (S.D, Ohio 1973). " The broad purpose of the Act requires a liberal construction in favor of disability and the intent of the Act is inclusion rather than exclusion." Black v. Sullivan, 793 F.Supp. 45 (D.R.I. 1992) (citing Rivera v. Schweiker, 717 F.2d 719 (2d Cir. 1983).

III. THE APPLICABLE DISABILITY STANDARD FOR MINOR CLAIMANTS

In order for a child to be found disabled and entitled to SSI benefits, it must be shown that the child meets the standards set forth in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Public Law 104-193 (the " PRWORA" ). The PRWORA provides that:

[a]n individual under the age of 18 shall be considered disabled for the purposes of this title 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 ...

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