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Kyles v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

July 3, 2017

ALEXIS D. KYLES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          P. BRADLEY MURRAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Alexis D. Kyles brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her claim for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), based on disability. (Doc. 1). The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Doc. 15 (“In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, . . . order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings.”)). Upon consideration of the administrative record, Kyles's brief, the Commissioner's brief, and the arguments of counsel at the April 26, 2017 hearing before this Court, it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should be reversed and remanded.[1]

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Kyles applied for SSI, based on disability, under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383d, on June 12, 2013. (Tr. 22). Her application was denied at the initial level of administrative review on August 28, 2013. (Tr. 82-86). On October 3, 2013, Kyles requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 87). After hearings were held on October 10, 2014, and April 6, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Kyles was not under a disability from the date the application was filed through the date of the decision, April 24, 2015. (Tr. 22-31). Kyles appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review of the ALJ's decision on August 12, 2016. (Tr. 1-3). After exhausting her administrative remedies, Kyles sought judicial review in this Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed an answer and the social security transcript on December 15, 2016. (Docs. 7, 8). After both parties filed briefs setting forth their respective positions, the Court conducted a hearing on this matter on April 26, 2017. (Docs. 9, 10). The case is now ripe for decision.

         II. CLAIMS ON APPEAL

         Kyles alleges that the ALJ's decision to deny her benefits is in error for the following reasons:

1. The ALJ failed to consider whether Kyles's impairment or combination of impairments is of a severity to meet or medically equal the criteria of Listing 12.05C; and 2. The ALJ failed to give adequate weight to the opinions of consulting psychologists Dr. Tocci and Dr. Starkey.

(Doc. 9 at p. 2).

         III. BACKGROUND FACTS

         Kyles was born on May 17, 1995, and was 18 years old at the time she filed her claim for benefits. (Tr. 39, 22). Kyles initially alleged disability due to ADHD and anxiety. (Tr. 70, 211, 245). Kyles graduated from high school and passed a portion of the Alabama High School Graduation Exam. (Tr. 39). At the time of the initial hearing on October 10, 2014, she had recently started working at Wal-Mart . (Tr. 39). She started working as a cashier, but because of attention and focus issues, she was moved to housekeeping and maintenance. (Tr. 40). On April 6, 2015, the ALJ conducted a supplemental hearing to determine whether Kyles disability equaled a 5.08 listing due to potential anorexia. (Tr. 52-53). At that time, Kyles was still working at Wal-Mart approximately 32 hours per week. (Tr. 54). After conducting these two hearings, the ALJ made a determination that Kyles was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 31).

         IV. ALJ'S DECISION

         After considering all of the evidence, the ALJ made the following relevant findings in his April 24, 2015, decision:

2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: borderline intellectual functioning (BIF); learning disorder, not otherwise specified; and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
These impairments are based on opinions from acceptable medical sources, and supported by objective test results or accepted clinical diagnostic practices. I find that these impairments, either individually or in combination, impose more than a minimal effect on the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. Consequently, they are severe impairments for the purpose of disability review.
The record does not support the existence of severe physical impairments (food allergy, acne, anorexia, and low weight), which is consistent with the assessments provided by the State agency consultants (Exhibits 1A) and the ME who testified that the claimant's impairments did not meet or equal a Listing as testimony regarding her ongoing work support inferences that the impairments are not physically severe. In addition, 20 CFR 416.921; Social Security Rulings (SSRs) 85-28, 96-3p, and 96-4p define an impairment or combination of impairments is "not severe" when medical and other evidence establishes only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities that would have no more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work. I have accorded significant weight to the State agency assessment as well as the ME, as the evidence received at the hearing level confirms their findings. The claimant's source of work-related impairment derives from her mental impairments, as discussed herein.
3. The claimant 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 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
I find that these impairments, singly or in combination, based upon a review of the medical evidence, do not meet Listing level severity, and no acceptable medical source has mentioned findings equivalent in severity to the criteria of any listed impairment.
The severity of the claimant's mental impairments, considered singly and in combination, do not meet or medically equal the criteria of listing 12.02. In making this finding, I have considered whether the "paragraph B" criteria are satisfied. To satisfy the "paragraph B" criteria, the mental impairments must result in at least two of the following: marked restriction of activities of daily living; marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. A marked limitation means more than moderate but less than extreme. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration, means three episodes within 1 year, or an average of once every 4 months, each lasting for at least 2 weeks.
In activities of daily living, the claimant has mild restriction. The claimant testified that she was able to perform household chores. The record further shows the claimant has no problems with tending to all personal needs as well as preparing simple meals (Exhibits 4E and 3F-4F).
In social functioning, the claimant has moderate difficulties. The claimant testified that she attends church. In addition, the record shows she participates in hobbies and interests two to three times a week; spends time with others once or twice a week; and gets along well with authority figures (Exhibits 4E and 3F-4F).
With regard to concentration, persistence or pace, the claimant has moderate difficulties. The claimant testified she was able to manage a bank account; drive a motor vehicle; work; and attend community college. The evidence also reveals the claimant is able to shop in stores; pay bills; count change; use a checkbook/money orders; and, she does not need reminders to go places. However, the record reflects she requires reminders to brush her teeth and take her medication; and, she has difficulty completing tasks, concentrating, and understanding and following instructions (Exhibits 4E and 3F-4F).
As for episodes of decompensation, the claimant has experienced no episodes of decompensation, which have been of extended duration.
* * *
Because the claimant's mental impairments do not cause at least two "marked" limitations or one "marked" limitation and "repeated" episodes of decompensation each of extended duration, the "paragraph B" criteria ...

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