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A.J.W. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 28, 2017

A.J.W., Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          Samantha Harker Clawson, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, for Plaintiff.

          Pamela Marentette, and Michael A. Moss, Social Security Administration for Defendant.


          SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, United States District Judge


         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Objections [Doc. No. 21] to United States Magistrate Judge Leo I. Brisbois's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”), dated July 5, 2017 [Doc. No. 19]. The magistrate judge recommended that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 13] be denied, and that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 15] be granted.

         Pursuant to statute, this Court reviews de novo any portion of the magistrate judge's opinion to which specific objections are made, and “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations” contained in that opinion. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b); D. Minn. LR 72.2(b)(3). For the reasons stated herein, the Court overrules Plaintiff's objections and adopts the R&R in its entirety.


         The facts pertinent to this matter have been thoroughly and accurately detailed in the R&R, and will not be repeated in full here. (See R&R at 1-34.) Stated briefly, in May 2009, Plaintiff's parent (“Parent”) filed an application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) on behalf of her nine-year-old son, pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (See Id. at 1.)[1] On December 14, 2009, Defendant found that Plaintiff was disabled due to Borderline Intellectual Function and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”). (See Id. at 1-2.) Plaintiff was found to be disabled as of May 5, 2009, and was awarded SSI benefits accordingly. (See Id. at 2.)

         On May 16, 2014, after a routine review of Plaintiff's disability pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.994a(a), Defendant concluded that Plaintiff had exhibited medical improvement and was no longer disabled as of May 1, 2014. Plaintiff's disability benefits were subsequently terminated. (See id.)

         Plaintiff requested reconsideration of the termination decision, and a hearing was held on the request on July 17, 2014. (See id.) Both Parent and Plaintiff testified at the hearing, and a decision was issued by the Disability Hearing Officer on July 18, 2014. (See id.) She concluded that Plaintiff's condition had improved since the initial decision to award benefits in 2009 (the “Comparison Point Decision, or “CPD”), [2] and that Plaintiff was no longer disabled.

         Plaintiff again requested reconsideration, this time before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). ALJ Mary M. Kunz duly held an administrative hearing on November 14, 2014, where she heard testimony from Plaintiff, Parent, and Dr. Karen Butler, the state agency medical expert. (See id.) On December 8, 2014, the ALJ issued her Hearing Decision, in which she concluded that Plaintiff's disability had ended as of May 1, 2014, and he had not become disabled again since that date. (See id.)

         Of particular note here, the ALJ reached her decision after following the three-step sequential analysis for conducting a periodic review of a child's eligibility for disability benefits mandated by 20 C.F.R. § 416.994a(b). (See Id. at 32.) The ALJ found that at the time of the CPD, Plaintiff had medically determinable impairments of borderline intellectual functioning and ADHD, which caused marked limitations in two of the six domains listed in 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)-“acquiring and using information, ” and “interacting and relating with others.” (See id.)

         In the first step of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that the medical evidence of record supported a finding that as of May 1, 2014, the medical severity of Plaintiff's impairments had decreased since the CPD. At the second step, the ALJ found that the impairments Plaintiff had at the time of the CPD did not, as of May 1, 2014, functionally equal the Listing of Impairments.[3] See 20 C.F.R. § 416.925.

         Finally, at the third step, the ALJ considered whether Plaintiff's current severe impairments, which the ALJ found were Anxiety, Not Otherwise Specified (“Anxiety, NOS”), and ADHD, met or medically equaled a Listed Impairment identified in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (See R&R at 33.) The ALJ concluded that they did not. (See id.) She further found that Plaintiff's current impairments did not functionally equal a Listed Impairment, based on the testimony of Plaintiff, Parent, and Dr. Butler. (See Id. at 33-34.) Ultimately, because Plaintiff's impairments had not resulted in marked ...

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