United States District Court, D. Colorado
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Kathleen M. Tafoya, United States Magistrate Judge
Judge Kathleen M. Tafoya This action seeks review of the
Commissioner's final decision denying Plaintiff's
claim for children's supplemental security benefits under
Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”).
Pursuant to the consent of the parties, this civil action was
referred to the Magistrate Judge pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, and D.C.Colo.LCivR 72.2.
See Docs. 13, 18, 19. The court has carefully
considered the Complaint (filed February 2, 2017) (Doc. 1),
Plaintiff's Opening Brief (filed April 28, 2017) (Doc.
15), Defendant's Response Brief (filed May 22, 2017)
(Doc. 16), Plaintiff's Reply (filed May 29, 2017) (Doc.
17), the entire case file, the administrative record, and
applicable case law. For the following reasons, the court
REMANDS the Commissioner's decision for further
was born on November 19, 1999. His mother, Anita Vigil, filed
for benefits on October 18, 2013, alleging that the child was
disabled as of October 1, 2011, as a result of attention
deficit disorder (“ADD”) and depression.
(See Social Security Administrative Record
(hereinafter “AR”) at 91-99, 110, 119). After the
application was administratively denied, Ms. Vigil requested
a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). Id. at 58. The hearing was
conducted on November 4, 2015. Id. at 27-43. At the
time of the hearing, V.D.V. was nearly 16 years old.
ultimately found that V.D.V. was not disabled as defined in
the Act and, therefore, not entitled to supplemental security
income childhood disability benefits. Although the evidence
established that V.D.V.'s depression and ADD were severe
impairments, the ALJ concluded that the severity of those
impairments neither met nor medically equaled, nor were
functionally equivalent to, any impairment listed in the
regulations. Id. at 11-22.
the ALJ's decision, Ms. Vigil requested review and
submitted additional evidence. See id. at 1-4. The
Appeals Council denied the request for review on December 9,
2016. Id. The decision of the ALJ then became the
final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §
416.1481, 422.210(a); Nelson v. Sullivan, 992 F.2d
1118, 1119 (10th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). Plaintiff
filed this action on February 2, 2017. Doc. 1. The court has
jurisdiction to review the final decision of the
Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing the Commissioner's final decision, the court is
limited to determining whether the decision adheres to
applicable legal standards and is supported by substantial
evidence in the record as a whole. Berna v. Chater,
101 F.3d 631, 632 (10th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted);
Angel v. Barnhart, 329 F.3d 1208, 1209 (10th Cir.
2003). The court may not reverse an ALJ simply because it may
have reached a different result based on the record; the
question instead is whether there is substantial evidence
showing that the ALJ was justified in his decision. See
Ellison v. Sullivan, 929 F.2d 534, 536 (10th Cir. 1990).
“Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla and
is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept
as adequate to support a conclusion.” Flaherty v.
Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007) (internal
citation omitted). Moreover, “[e]vidence is not
substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the
record or constitutes mere conclusion.” Musgrave v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992) (internal
citation omitted). The court will not “reweigh the
evidence or retry the case, ” but must
“meticulously examine the record as a whole, including
anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's
findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has
been met.” Flaherty, 515 F.3d at 1070
(internal citation omitted). Nevertheless, “if the ALJ
failed to apply the correct legal test, there is a ground for
reversal apart from a lack of substantial evidence.”
Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir.
1993) (internal citation omitted).
person under the age of eighteen is disabled within the
meaning of the Act if he or she “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); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 416.906. No individual under the
age of eighteen will be considered disabled if he or she is
engaging in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. §
Social Security Regulations establish a three-step sequential
evaluation to determine whether an individual under the age
of eighteen is disabled under Title XVI of the Act. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.924; Briggs ex rel. Briggs v. Massanari,
248 F.3d 1235, 1237 (10th Cir. 2001). At step one, the
Commissioner must determine whether the child is gainfully
employed. If the answer is no, the inquiry proceeds to the
second step. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a) and (b). At step
two, it must be determined whether the child has an
impairment or combination of impairments that is severe. If
the impairment or combination of impairments is not severe,
the inquiry is at an end. Id. § 416.924(a) and
(c). If they are severe, the Commissioner must ask whether
the child's impairment meets, medically equals, or
functionally equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1,
Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, and meets the durational
requirement. Id. at § 416.924(a) and (d).
Vigil raises numerous arguments on appeal. One of those
arguments - the ALJ erred in failing to separately consider
the criteria of medical equivalence from those of functional
equivalence - is sufficient on its own to warrant reversal.
Therefore, the court declines to address the others as they
may be impacted on remand. See Watkins v. Barnhart,
350 F.3d 1297, 1299 (10th Cir. 2003) (“We will not
reach the remaining issues raised by appellant because they
may be affected by the [administrative law judge's]
treatment of the case on remand.”).
order, the ALJ concluded that V.D.V. “does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR
416.924, 416.925 and 416.926).” AR at 11. In reaching
this conclusion, the ALJ found, without further discussion,
that the “objective medical evidence and the opinion
evidence of record do not indicate that the claimant has
marked impairment in any of the four areas.”
Id. This statement, however, is ...