United States District Court, D. Arizona
JAMES A. TEILBORG, Senior District Judge.
Plaintiff Rhonda Glover, legal guardian and grandmother of minor claimant D.H., appeals a denial of benefits by the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). (Doc. 11). The Court now rules on this appeal.
A. Procedural History
Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on January 24, 2011 on behalf of her minor grandson, D.H., alleging D.H.'s disability beginning July 1, 2008. (Doc. 11 at 2; TR at 16). The claim was initially denied on November 4, 2010 and again upon reconsideration on October 28, 2011. (TR at 16). Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was conducted by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on April 11, 2013, with a final decision entered April 23, 2013. ( Id. at 10).
B. Factual Background
D.H. was born in 2006. (Doc. 11 at 2). In 2010, D.H. was diagnosed with a disruptive behavior disorder after an evaluation at Centro De Amistad. ( Id. ) Dr. Christina Katen evaluated D.H. in March 2011, diagnosing him with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD") and oppositional defiance disorder ("ODD"). (TR at 22). Dr. Katen found that acquisition and integration of new information was difficult for D.H., as his "mood dysregulation consumes most of his energy throughout his day with aggression and defiance being his primary coping skills." ( Id. ) D.H. began to take Adderall in 2012 to treat his ADHD. ( Id. at 21, 392-95).
D.H.'s kindergarten teacher, Lisa Van Duyne, completed Teacher Questionnaires in September 2011 and August 2012. ( Id. at 264-71, 350-57). Both questionnaires noted that D.H. had no problems acquiring and using information or moving about and manipulating objects. ( Id. at 265, 268, 351, 354) Ms. Van Duyne reported low to moderate issues with attending and completing tasks and moderate to high problems interacting and relating with others. ( Id. at 266-67, 352-53) D.H.'s first grade teacher, Laura Belliveau, noted a slow improvement in D.H.'s behavior and grades after he was placed on medication, but also expressed concern after observing a regression to previous behavior. ( Id. at 282). Ms. Belliveau rated D.H.'s academic skills as "average" to "excellent, " but remarked that he struggled with his relationships with peers and not disrupting class. ( Id. at 286). Ms. Belliveau noted further that "[D.H.]'s behavior has improved immensely since the start of his medication." ( Id. at 287). D.H.'s report card for the 2011-2012 school year shows that he meets or exceeds the standards in every academic area, but is "satisfactory" or "needs improvement" in social areas. ( Id. at 272-73). Plaintiff testified that D.H. is not in a special education program. ( Id. at 40).
Dr. Daniel Wiseman, a pediatrician, reviewed D.H.'s file and interviewed him during the hearing. ( Id. at 40-43). Dr. Wiseman found that, while D.H.'s ADHD caused him difficulties, D.H.'s symptoms were not of the severity to meet, medically equal, or functionally equal a listed impairment in the C.F.R. ( Id. at 46-47).
A. Three-Step Evaluation Process
The ALJ follows a three-step process to evaluate whether a child is disabled. First, the ALJ determines whether the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a), (b). If the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity, then the child is not disabled. Id. § 416.924(b). Second, the ALJ determines whether the child has a "medically determinable impairment(s) that is severe." Id. § 416.924(c). For purposes of this step, "a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities that causes no more than minimal functional limitations" does not constitute a severe impairment. Id. If the child has no severe, medically determinable impairment, then the child is not disabled. Id. Finally, the ALJ must determine whether the child's impairment "meet[s], medically equal[s], or functionally equal[s] the listings." Id. § 416.924(d). The impairment medically equals a listed impairment if "it is at least equal in severity and duration to the criteria of any listed impairment." Id. § 416.926(a); Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart, 341 F.3d 1006, 1012 (9th Cir. 2003). The impairment is functionally equivalent to a listed impairment if the child has a "marked" limitation in two areas or an "extreme" limitation in one area. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a (a); Howard, 341 F.3d at 1012.
In making disability determinations, the ALJ must "develop the record and interpret the medical evidence." Howard, 341 F.3d at 1012 (citing Crane v. Shalala, 76 F.3d 251, 255 (9th Cir. 1996)). In doing do, however, "the ALJ does not need to discuss every piece of evidence.'" Id. (citing Black v. Apfel, 143 F.3d 383, 386 (8th Cir. 1998) and Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1394-95 (9th Cir. 1984)).
B. The ALJ's Decision
At step one, the ALJ determined that D.H. is not engaged in gainful employment. (TR at 19). At step two, the ALJ determined that D.H. has three medically determinable, severe impairments: ADHD, ODD, and a disruptive behavior disorder. ( Id. ) At step three, the ALJ found that D.H. does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets, medically equals, or functionally equals a listed impairment. ( Id. at 19-20). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that D.H. is not disabled and therefore Plaintiff is not entitled to benefits. ( Id. at 29).
C. Standard of Review
A district court:
may set aside a denial of disability benefits only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based on legal error. Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance. Substantial evidence is relevant evidence, which considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's decision must be upheld.
Thomas v. Barnhart,
278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). This is because "[t]he trier of fact and not the reviewing court must resolve conflicts in the evidence, and if the evidence can support either outcome, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ." Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992). Under this standard, the Court will uphold the ALJ's findings if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Batson v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). However, the Court must consider the entire record as a whole and ...