Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Peck v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

September 14, 2017

TENISHA PECK o/b/o A.M., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING PURSUANT TO SENTENCE FOUR OF 42 U.S.C. § 405(G)

          S. THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Tenisha Peck, mother of A.M, a minor, filed this action to obtain judicial review of Defendant Commissioner's final decision denying the application of A.M. for childhood Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was held on April 13, 2013. On May 23, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision, finding that A.M. was not entitled to benefits. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, and, thus, the decision of the ALJ became the Commissioner's final decision. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED, and the action is REMANDED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Prior to filing the application at issue in this case, Plaintiff filed another claim on behalf of A.M. (“first application”), which was denied in a written decision on March 28, 2011. The second application for benefits, which is now under review in this Court, was filed while the first application was pending before the Appeals Council. When the Appeals Council denied the request for review of the denial of the first application, Plaintiff filed a complaint in District Court, civil matter 1:12-cv-01240-JDT, seeking review of the ALJ's decision. On April 22, 2015, the Court entered an order affirming the ALJ's decision on Plaintiff's first application. The parties agree that, at the time of the ALJ's decision on Plaintiff's second application, there had been no final decision on the first application.[1]

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a claimant may obtain judicial review of any final decision made by the Commissioner after a hearing to which he or she was a party. The Court “shall have 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 cause for a rehearing.”[2] The Court's review is limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision[3] and whether the correct legal standards were applied.[4] When substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's factual findings or when the correct legal standards were not applied, the case can be remanded under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further consideration.”[5]

         Pursuant to sentence four, a District Court may “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 cause for a rehearing.” The Court may immediately award Plaintiff benefits “only if all essential factual issues have been resolved and the record adequately establishes a plaintiff's entitlement to benefits.”[6] “A judicial award of benefits is proper only [when] the proof of disability is overwhelming or where the proof of disability is strong and evidence to the contrary is lacking.”[7] These factors are not present in this case, and, therefore, an immediate award of benefits is not appropriate. However, a remand pursuant to sentence four of § 405(g) is appropriate because all essential issues have not been resolved and the proper legal rules were not followed.

         A.M. was born on November 10, 1996. She attended regular classes at school but was referred to an alternative school for behavioral problems. She has no work history. She alleges disability due to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”), emotional and behavioral problems, anxiety, and depression. Because this is a childhood SSI claim, insured status is not in question.

         The ALJ made the following findings: (1) A.M. was an adolescent on the date that the application was filed and was still an adolescent on the date of the decision; (2) A.M. had not engaged in any substantial work activity since the application date; (3) A.M. has severe impairments of intermittent explosive disorder and oppositional defiant disorder (“ODD”); however, she does not have an impairment listed in, medically equal to, or functionally equal to one contained in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1; (4) A.M. does not have any impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equal the severity of the listings; (5) A.M. was not disabled at any time since the application was filed.[8]

         The Welfare Reform Act amended certain provisions of the Social Security Act relating to SSI applications by children as follows:

An individual under the age of 18 shall be considered disabled for 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 can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.[9]

         The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has promulgated final rules implementing this provision. The rules establish a three step sequential evaluation for determining childhood disability such that the SSA considers (1) whether the child is working; (2) whether the child has a medically determinable severe impairment which is expected to result in death, has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months and, if so, (3) whether the impairment or combination of impairments meets, medically equals, or functionally equals the severity of any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”).[10] A child will be found disabled if he or she has an impairment or combination of impairments which meet, equal, or functionally equal any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1, Listing of Impairments.

         In the present case, the ALJ determined that A.M. has severe impairments of intermittent explosive disorder and ODD but does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments, and she does not functionally equal the listings. Therefore, A.M. was not disabled as defined in the Act since the date of the application. In his decision, the ALJ acknowledged Plaintiff's first application on behalf of A.M., stated that a final decision had been rendered in that case, and determined that, under Drummond, Dennard, and the related acquiescence rulings, he was “bound by the residual capacity and other vocational information found in the prior final decision, absent evidence of a significant change in the claimant's medical condition during a relevant period.”[11]

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred (1) in applying the res judicata principles announced in Drummond v. Comm'r of Social Sec., 126 F.3d 837 (6th Cir. 1997), AR 98-4(6), Dennard v. Sec. of Health & Human Servs, 907 F.2d 598 (6th Cir. 1990), and AR 98-3(6); (2) in his weighing of the medical evidence; (3) in failing to find that A.M.'s impairments satisfied the elements of any listing; and (4) in his credibility determination. Because the Court finds Plaintiff's Drummond argument to be persuasive, the Court need not decide Plaintiff's remaining arguments.

         Plaintiff contends that Drummond, Dennard, AR 98-4(6), and AR 98-3(6) do not apply generally in childhood SSI cases and are also not applicable in this particular case because the decision as to A.M.'s first application had not become final at the time of the second ALJ decision, contrary to the statement made by the ALJ. Because the Commissioner's brief did not address these arguments, the Court ordered the Commissioner to file a supplemental brief. The supplemental brief was filed on September 11, 2017.[12] While the Commissioner agrees that Dennard and AR 98-3(6), which involve determinations of past relevant work and assessment of vocational factors, do not apply in childhood disability cases, [13] she contends that Drummond and AR 98-4(6) do apply.

         In Drummond, the Sixth Circuit held that principles of res judicata apply to both Social Security claimants and the Commissioner.[14] Absent evidence of “changed circumstances” relating to a claimant's condition, “a subsequent ALJ is bound by the findings of a previous ALJ.”[15] Accordingly, when an ALJ seeks to deviate from a prior ALJ's decision, “[t]he burden is on the Commissioner to prove changed circumstances ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.