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Rehbock v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

October 23, 2017

JESSICA REHBOCK for C.N.R. a minor PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Greg N. Stivers, Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Objection to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (DN 25). For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Objection is OVERRULED, the Magistrate Judge's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation (“R&R”) (DN 22), is ADOPTED to the extent it is not inconsistent with this opinion, and Plaintiff's Complaint (DN 1) is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Childhood Disability

         In 2012, Plaintiff Jessica Rehbock (“Plaintiff”) applied for supplemental security income and any state supplementation and applicable medical assistance on behalf of her minor child, C.N.R. (Administrative R. at 141-46, DN 14 [hereinafter R.]). A child under age eighteen is 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). C.N.R. is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), Asperger's syndrome, and a language disorder. (R. at 17-18).

         On June 25, 2015, C.N.R. and Plaintiff participated in a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Mary S. Lassy (“ALJ”). (R. at 31-53). The ALJ denied the claim, reasoning that C.N.R. had not been under a disability from December 13, 2012, through July 31, 2015, the date of the decision. (R. at 11-30).

         B. ALJ's Decision

         In reaching her decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's application under the three-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner. (R. at 14-26). First, the ALJ found that C.N.R. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 13, 2012, the date the application was protectively filed. (R. at 17). Second, the ALJ determined that C.N.R.'s ADHD, autistic disorder, and language disorder were “severe” impairments within the meaning of the regulations. (R. at 17).

         The third step, at issue here, probed whether the claimant had an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equated one of the listed impairments. (R. at 17). A finding of functional equivalence is required if the claimant's impairments cause an “extreme”[1] limitation in one area or a “marked”[2] limitation in two or more areas. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). Six functional equivalence domains (“Domains”) are considered in this step in the evaluation: (1) acquiring and using information; (2) attending and completing tasks; (3) interacting and relating with others; (4) moving about and manipulating objects; (5) caring for yourself; (6) and health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1). The ALJ found, inter alia, that:

• Acquiring and Using Information (Domain 1): Notwithstanding that he had repeated kindergarten and was therefore one grade level behind his age group, C.N.R. had “no overly remarkable deficits in his intellectual functioning.” (R. at 19). An evaluation by a psychological consultative examiner, Dr. Amble, demonstrated he had normal intelligence and an IQ score of 94. (R. at 19). An evaluation on October 24, 2013, by a school psychologist concluded C.N.R. had overall cognitive functioning, basic reading, and math computation skills within the average range. (R. at 19). C.N.R. had minimal symptoms of autism spectrum disorder based on a rating scale completed by his special education teacher. (R. at 19-20). C.N.R.'s teacher questionnaires completed on May 16, 2013, September 25, 2013, and May 17, 2015, reflected no serious problems. (R. at 20).
• Conclusion: C.N.R. had less than marked limitation in Domain 1. (R. at 19)
• Attending and Completing Tasks (Domain 2): C.NR.'s ADHD was “sufficiently controlled with medication, ” per treatment notes dated November 6, 2012, January 7, 2013, April 8, 2013, and June 11, 2013. (R. at 21). A teacher questionnaire suggested C.N.R. had “extremely serious problems working at a reasonable pace or finishing on time[, ]” but that C.N.R. had “only slight problems completing class and homework assignments, carrying out multi-step instructions, and refocusing to task when necessary.” (R. at 21). Additional teacher questionnaires reflected no serious problems in this area, and C.N.R.'s impairments did not cause a recent spike in absences at school.
• Conclusion: C.N.R. had less than marked limitation in Domain 2. (R. at 21).
• Interacting and Relating with Others (Domain 3): the ALJ observed that C.N.R. had some degree of language disorder, but the same was described as “moderate” as of a September 13, 2013 speech questionnaire. (R at 22). C.NR.'s progress and prognosis in speech/language therapy were both good. (R. at 22). An evaluation by a speech/language therapist judged C.N.R.'s speech to be intelligible to the unfamiliar listener with 90% accuracy, and that his voice and fluency skills were within normal limits. (R. at 22). A behavior modification in place at school set goals for C.N.R.'s responsiveness, and a reward system was in place to keep him focused. (R. at 22-23).
• Conclusion: C.N.R. had less than marked limitation in Domain 3. (R. at 22).
• Moving About and Manipulating Objects (Domain 4): The record indicated no significant difficulties related to C.N.R.'s strength, coordination, or motor skills, and a report prepared by his mother reflected no limitations of his physical abilities. (R. at 23-24).
• Conclusion: C.N.R. had no limitation in Domain 4. (R at 23).
• Caring for Yourself (Domain 5): Notwithstanding C.N.R.'s requiring some assistance in this area, C.N.R. was able to attend public school, engage in activities including video games and swimming, and was responsible with his eyeglasses. (R. at 25).
• Conclusion: C.N.R. had less than marked limitation in Domain 5. (R. at 25).
• Health and Physical Well-Being (Domain 6): The record indicated no significantly adverse side effects from C.N.R.'s prescribed medication, which was noted to be working well for him. (R. at 25).
o Conclusion: C.N.R. had no limitation in Domain 6. (R at 25).

         The ALJ further noted that she gave “great weight to the assessments endorsed by the state agency consultants . . . which found the claimant to have no more than less than marked limitations[, ]” as they were “reasonably commensurate with and supported by the overall substantial evidence of record” relied upon in the individual domains of functioning. (R. at 26, 54-62, 64-76). The ALJ also accorded “[g]reat weight . . . to the various teacher questionnaires of record to the extent they do not disagree with” her findings of fact. (R. at 26). The most recent questionnaires were completed in May 2015, and were tailored to the functional equivalence categories.[3] (R. at 228-47).

         Finally, the ALJ discussed the various global assessment of functioning (GAF) ratings provided. (R. at 26). She granted “limited weight” to the rating of Dr. Amble, finding that it was “not entirely consistent with the recent medical evidence as a whole” and additionally found that the ratings in the record from Four Rivers Behavioral Health were not afforded “significant weight” as not “endorsed by an acceptable source to give a medical opinion.” (R. at 26).

         Thus, since C.N.R. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that resulted in either “marked” limitations in two domains of functioning or “extreme” limitation in one domain of functioning, the ALJ determined that C.N.R. had not been disabled, as defined by the Social Security Act, since the filing date of his application. (R. at 26). Plaintiff filed a request for review, which the Appeals Council denied. (R. at 1-5, 9-10).

         C. Plaintiff's Federal Claim

         Plaintiff filed suit in this Court seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (Compl., DN 1). Following the filing of the administrative record and fact and law summaries from each party Magistrate Judge King submitted his R&R recommending that the final decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. (R. & R. 1, 6).

         Plaintiff objected to the R&R, and the Commissioner responded. (Pl.'s Obj., DN 25; Def.'s Resp. Pl.'s Obj., DN 26). This matter is ripe for adjudication.

         II. JURISDICTION

         The Court has jurisdiction to examine the record that was before the Commissioner on the date of the Commissioner's final decision and to enter judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing that decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The parts of a Magistrate Judge's R&R to which objections are raised are reviewed by the district judge de novo, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the R&R. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). This differs from the standard applied to the Commissioner's decision. That decision, rendered by an ALJ, is reviewed to determine “whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). Where substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, a court is obliged to affirm. Siterlet v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 823 F.2d 918, 920 (6th Cir. 1987) (citation omitted). A court should not attempt to second-guess the factfinder with respect to conflicts of evidence or questions of credibility. Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         The Magistrate Judge recommended that the final decision of the Commissioner, via the ALJ's decision, be affirmed and Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed. (R. & R. 6). The Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge. Plaintiff raises the following issues in the Objection to the R&R: (1) the Magistrate Judge incorrectly found no error regarding the ALJ's reliance on non-examining state agency opinions; (2) the Magistrate Judge incorrectly found no error in the ALJ's conclusions relating to C.N.R.'s impairments; and (3) the Magistrate Judge disregarded the ALJ's failure to follow required legal standards, including due process. These objections are addressed in turn.

         A. State ...


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