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Sarah B. Malone v. Michael J. Astrue

September 18, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McVerry, J.



Sarah B. Malone ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") denying her application for Children's Insurance Benefits ("CIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 -- 433, 1381 -- 1383f ("Act"). This matter comes before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment. The record has been developed at the administrative level. For the following reasons, the decision of the ALJ will be REVERSED and the Commissioner will be directed to award benefits to Plaintiff.


Plaintiff filed for CIB and SSI with the Social Security Administration January 15, 2008, claiming an inability to work due to disability beginning February 1, 1999. (R. at 140 -- 44)*fn1.

Plaintiff was initially denied benefits on June 24, 2008. (R. at 78 -- 99). A hearing was scheduled for September 2, 2009, at which Plaintiff testified and was represented by a credited disability representative. (R. at 38 -- 73). An impartial vocational expert, Eugene A. Czuczman, also testified. (R. at 38 -- 73). On September 9, 2009, Administrative Law Judge George A. Mills III ("ALJ"), issued a decision in which he denied benefits to Plaintiff. (R. at 25 -- 37). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which request was denied on December 17, 2010, thereby making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. at 12 -- 16).

Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this Court on June 9, 2011. Defendant filed his Answer on August 12, 2011. Cross motions for summary judgment followed.


A.General Background

Plaintiff was born on April 29, 1988, and was twenty-one years of age at the time of her administrative hearing. (R. at 46). She resided at home with her parents. (R. at 50). Plaintiff completed high school and received her diploma, but was home-schooled during her twelfth grade year with the aid of a tutor provided by her school. (R. at 48). She has no post-secondary education. She also has no history of substantial gainful activity. Her sole attempt at employment was as an aid in a nursing home, where she worked for only a few days. (R. at 50).

At the time of her application for benefits, Plaintiff claimed that she was unable to work due to fibromyalgia, deafness in the left ear, migraines, and seizures. (R. at 182). Plaintiff had difficulty answering questions during her application interview -- frequently requiring the interviewer to repeat questions, and often deferring to her mother to answer questions. (R. at 179). She subsists on the support of her parents, as well as cash assistance and medical benefits from the state. (R. at 50 -- 51).

B.Relevant Treatment History*fn2

The evidence presented to the ALJ included school records of Plaintiff's specialized educational program when she was in high school. (R. at 157 -- 77). The records were from 2005 and 2006. (R. at 157 -- 77). In 2005, Plaintiff was identified as a having a learning disability with lower cognitive ability. (R. at 167). Plaintiff had been utilizing learning support services in school since the second grade. (R. at 172).

In 2005, Plaintiff's reasoning skills were good/appropriate for her age, however, her math skills were significantly lower -- around a fourth to sixth grade level. (R. at 173). Plaintiff's grades from the 2003 -- 2004 academic year included As in Art and Phys. Ed, Bs in Home Ec. And Life Skills, Cs in English, Math, and History, and a D in Science. (R. at 173). Plaintiff's grades partway through the 2004 -- 2005 academic year were similar, but with marginal improvement. (R. at 174). Plaintiff required specially designed instruction to maintain her level of achievement. (R. at 176).

More specifically, in terms of her "present levels of academic achievement," it was noted in 2006 that Plaintiff was: enrolled in all general education classes. Modifications are required for the student to succeed in the general education curriculum. [Plaintiff] attends the greene county vocational technical school. She is progressing at an acceptable level at that educational location. She is passing all her classes at home school as well. At this time [Plaintiff] does plan on attending a post secondary school. She is also planning on pursuing competitive employment in her vocational area. [Plaintiff] plans on living at home for a period of time after graduation, then she would like to live independently. [Plaintiff] will be provided further information regarding voters registration [sic] a drivers education will also be available. [Plaintiff] has the necessary recreation and leisure skills.

(R. at 160). In terms of her "present levels of functional performance," it was noted that Plaintiff had: lower cognitive ability and resulting lower achievement in reading, math, and written expression [requiring] a program of specially designed instructions i [sic] these areas for educational progress to occur. Modifications in general education classes are needed to compensate for deficits.

(R. at 160). Plaintiff's noted strengths included, "cooperative," "attentive," "prepared for class," "listening skills," and "working with hands." (R. at 160). Accommodations for Plaintiff's deficits included extended test time, use of a calculator, and oral reading of directions for standardized tests, as well as extended test time, shortened assignments, and oral reading of directions while in school. (R. at 161, 163).

On May 26, 2008, Plaintiff underwent a psychological evaluation conducted by Thomas E. Andrews, Ph.D., on behalf of the Bureau of Disability Determination. (R. at 388 -- 95). Plaintiff appeared at the evaluation with her mother and another relative. (R. at 390). Dr. Andrews noted Plaintiff to be pleasant and cooperative, yet mildly tearful during conversation about problems in her life. (R. at 390). Plaintiff's affect was mildly flat, at times. (R. at 391). Plaintiff's general fund of knowledge was considered to be somewhat restricted, and she appeared to be limited, intellectually. (R. at 390). Plaintiff required help reciting the ...

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