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Hasan v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

March 29, 2018

CLARISSA HASAN, on behalf of T.H., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          William H. Baughman, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge.

         Introduction

         Before me[1] is an action by Clarissa Hasan, on behalf of T.H., under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying T.H.'s application for supplemental security income.[2] The Commissioner has answered[3] and filed the transcript of the administrative record.[4] Under my initial[5] and procedural[6] orders, the parties have briefed their positions[7] and filed supplemental charts[8] and the fact sheet.[9] They have participated in a telephonic oral argument.[10]

         Facts

         A. Background facts and decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)

         Hasan who was 8 years old at the time of the administrative hearing, [11]was in the 3rdgrade and enrolled at Michael R. White elementary school.[12]

         The ALJ, whose decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, found that Hasan had the following severe impairments: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a mood disorder, and a conduct disorder (20 CFR 416.924(c)).[13]

         B. Issues on judicial review

         Hasan asks for reversal of the Commissioner's decision on the ground that it does not have the support of substantial evidence in the administrative record. Specifically, Hasan presents the following issue for judicial review:

         • Whether the ALJ erred with regard to applying the child domain regulations regarding plaintiff's limitations in attending and completing tasks and interacting and relating with others.[14]

         For the reasons that follow, I will conclude that the ALJ's finding of no disability is not supported by substantial evidence and, therefore, must be reversed and remanded.

         Analysis

         This children's SSI case presents the single issue of whether the ALJ erred by finding less than marked limitation in the functional domain of interacting and relating to others. Resolution of this question centers on the weight assigned to two sources - Thomas Eppright, M.D. and Pauline Congeni, MSW, LSW.

         Dr. Eppright, who treated T.H. at Beech Brook, opined that T.H. has marked limitations in the domain of interacting with others.[15] His opinion was assigned little weight.[16] The ALJ stated that Dr. Eppright's statement was “not determinative” because “these extreme limitations have not been supported by objective evidence.”[17] To that point of objective evidence, the ALJ states that “no school or medical records have been submitted, ” and further states that “Dr, Eppright's assessment is also in contrast to one completed by [T.H.'s] therapist.”[18]

         Congeni, who is identified as T.H.'s therapist, also concluded that T.H. has marked limitations in the domain of interacting with others.[19] The ALJ assigned that opinion “not significant weight.”[20] Here, although the ALJ cites to specific reasons for the lesser weight that relate to other domains, he states that Congeni's functional opinion is deficient “[f]or similar reasons” to those given concerning the opinion of Dr. Eppright.[21]

         In discussing this particular domain in the opinion, the ALJ specifically took note of the following:

(1) That although T.H. is largely intelligible when speaking, he also stutters;
(2) the record shows he “has anger issues, argues, fights and behaves in uncooperative, disrespectful, aggressive and defiant ways;”
(3) his mother reports that he has “random” temper tantrums, has been suspended from school multiple times, and fights with his siblings'
(4) at the same time, T.H. was “also noted to be helpful, and kind to others, including to family members, when he wants;” and
(5) his mother also “reported that [T.H's] impairment did not affect his behavior with other people.”[22]

         The ALJ also observed that “Beechbrook treatment records document [T.H's] poor peer relations and attention seeking behavior, ” while also describing T.H. as “socially awkward, aggressive, and having difficulty making friends.”[23] The ALJ then further noted that Beechbrook records also show that T.H. “moved at least twelve times in a three-year period.”[24]

         At this point, the ALJ discussed the April 2014 opinion of Dr. Thomas House, Ph.D., a consultative examining psychologist, noting first that Dr. House found T.H. to be “capable of being cooperative and pleasant in a one-to-one interaction, with the ability to talk about topics of interest, and to participate in a conversation initiated by others.”[25] The ALJ further cited Dr. House's opinion for observing that T.H. had the ability to listen to others and to take direction, and that T.H. reported that he had a “best friend and interacted well with his 11 year old sister.”[26] The ALJ also reported in the opinion that Dr. House “speculated” that over-stimulation may be why T.H. may have more difficulties in group settings, and stated that Dr. House noted T.H.'s “occasional[]” frustration, which manifested itself in behaviors such as “throwing things, screaming, and engaging in some ...


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