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Darnell Stepp O/B/O D.S v. Michael J. Astrue

October 11, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Sean J., District Judge.



Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), Darnell Stepp ("Plaintiff"), who is proceeding pro se on behalf of his minor son D.S., ("D.S."), seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision denying his claim for child's supplemental security income benefits ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. Plaintiff filed an application on February 25, 2009, alleging that D.S. has been disabled since birth due to fighting, mental problems and hyperactivity (AR 124-130; 160).*fn1 His application was denied (AR 89), and following a hearing held on May 19, 2010 (AR 47-66), the administrative law judge ("ALJ") issued his decision denying benefits on June 22, 2010 (AR 32-44). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (AR 1-3), rendering the Commissioner's decision final under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The instant action challenges the ALJ's decision, and presently pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion will be denied and the Defendant's motion will be granted.


D.S. was 17 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision and was enrolled in the 10thgrade (AR 36).

School Records

D.S. was administered the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Third Edition (WISC-III) test in December 2002 (AR 201). He achieved a verbal IQ score of 108, which was average, a performance IQ score of 86, which was low average, and a full scale IQ of 97, which was average (AR 201). When D.S. was in the 7th grade, a Reevaluation Report dated January 27, 2006 revealed that he received full-time emotional support services (AR 200). The Report indicated that D.S. had a history of receiving mental health services and medication, and had been diagnosed with attention hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) by Dr. Borczon (AR 200). It was noted that he had a longstanding history of behavioral problems at school and had a hard time controlling his emotions (AR 200; 203). It was reported that he could be very cooperative and friendly with staff, but was also confrontational (AR 203). It was noted that he related very well with some peers but not with others (AR 203). D.S. worked independently while in school, but homework rarely came back completed (AR 203). It was noted that he had been truant for several days at that point in time (AR 203).

On April 25, 2008, the Individualized Education Program ("IEP") team met to assess D.S.'s need for continued emotional support services (AR 178-199).*fn2 D.S. was in the 9th grade and his IEP revealed that he was functioning at grade level (AR 182). His reported strengths were that he could be friendly and polite, but it was noted that he needed to increase his academic skills and impulse control, as his behavioral problems affected his involvement in the general education curriculum (AR 182). It was recommended that he receive part-time emotional support services for English, Math, Social Studies and Science (AR 188). It was also recommended that he receive psychological services for one hour per month (AR 186). His transcript revealed that while he was in the 9th grade, he was ranked number 5 out of 182 students, and had a cumulative grade point average ("GPA") of 3.818 (AR 169).

D.S.'s English teacher completed a "Teacher Questionnaire" when he was in the 10th grade (AR 209-215).*fn3 It was noted that D.S. had an unusual degree of absenteeism, and had attended class regularly for two months and then disappeared for a few months (AR 209).*fn4 In the domain of acquiring and using information, D.S.'s teacher reported that he had no problem reading and comprehending written material, and only a slight problem understanding school and content vocabulary, and participating in class discussions (AR 210). He had problems learning new material however, and had serious problems comprehending instructions, expressing written ideas, recalling and applying previously learned material, and applying problem-solving skills in class discussions (AR 210). His teacher stated that D.S. had trouble writing essays and due to his absenteeism, he was unable to recall and apply previously learned material (AR 210). He also "shut[] down" when faced with a slight challenge, and became frustrated when being helped (AR 210). In the domain of attending and completing tasks, D.S. had slight to serious problems, and he was very dependent on his teacher (AR 211). However, it was further noted that when D.S. understood a task, he was very particular about his presentation, and was a "meticulous writer and read[] higher-level books, like John Grisham" (AR 211).

In the domain of interacting and relating with others, his teacher reported that he had serious problems on a weekly basis playing cooperatively with other children and seeking attention appropriately, and on a monthly basis respecting/obeying adults in authority, and a very serious problem expressing anger appropriately on a weekly basis (AR 212). He had only slight problems following rules, introducing and maintaining relevant topics of conversation, and taking turns in a conversation (AR 212). He had no problems moving about and manipulating objects and had no health problems (AR 213; 215). In the domain of caring for himself, he had a very serious problem on a weekly basis handling frustration appropriately, being patient, identifying and appropriately asserting emotional needs, responding appropriately to changes in his mood, and using appropriate coping skills to meet the daily demands of the school environment (AR 214). D.S.'s teacher reported that due to his absenteeism, he did not understand the material and was easily frustrated, which caused him to become disrespectful and rude (AR 214).

D.S.'s transcript revealed that while he was in the 10th grade, he was ranked number 236 out of 345 students, and had a cumulative GPA of 1.630 (AR 12). During the 2009-2010 school year, D.S.'s behavior reports revealed that detention and/or suspension was imposed on a number of occasions due tardiness, truancy, profane language, insubordination, disorderly conduct and/or threats to staff (AR 16-19).

Plaintiff's Report

Plaintiff completed a "Function Report" on a form supplied by the Commissioner on December 12, 2008 (AR 147-155). Plaintiff reported that D.S.'s daily activities and physical abilities were not limited (AR 150-151). D.S. was able to use the telephone, repeat stories heard, and talk with his family (AR 150). He was unable to tell jokes accurately, explain why he did something, ask for what he needed or talk with friends (AR 150). Plaintiff further reported that D.S. was able to read and understand stories in books, magazines, and newspapers, add and subtract numbers over 10, and make correct change (AR 151). He was, however, unable to understand, carry out and remember simple instructions (AR 151). Plaintiff indicated D.S. had trouble getting along with friends, siblings and teachers, but was able to get along with Plaintiff and other adults (AR 152). D.S. was able to get to school on time, study and complete his homework, but was not able to accept criticism, keep out of trouble, obey rules, keep busy on his own, finish what he started, and complete his homework on time (AR 153-154).

Medical evidence

On June 4, 2008, D.S. underwent a psychiatric evaluation performed by Haluk Aydin, M.D. at the Achievement Center following his discharge from a residential treatment facility program (AR 227-229). Dr. Aydin noted that D.S. had previously been at a juvenile detention center and at a boot camp (AR 227). D.S. reported that he benefitted from boot camp and had learned to improve his behaviors (AR 227). Dr. Aydin reported that D.S. had returned to the community about two months prior and "had done relatively well since then" (AR 227). He was attending school regularly and had been able to control his anger and aggression (AR 227). D.S. was taking Celexa, and he and his grandmother reported that it was helpful (AR 227). He denied having any depressive symptoms, panic attacks, psychotic symptoms, or suicidal/homicidal thoughts (AR 227-228).

Dr. Aydin reported that D.S. had previously been diagnosed with a mood disorder not otherwise specified in 2006 by Dr. Joy, and with depressive disorder not otherwise specified in 2008 by Dr. Denniston (AR 227). It was noted that D.S. had difficulties with primary support, having lived with his father, grandmother and mother at different times (AR 228). He was doing "relatively well" at his grandmother's home (AR 228). D.S. reported that while he was in placement he missed his brother and considered them close (AR 228). He further reported that he was able to maintain safe behaviors in the community (AR 228).

On mental status examination, Dr. Aydin reported that D.S. was alert, oriented and well-dressed, with goal-directed and spontaneous speech (AR 228). His mood was reported as "okay" and his affect was "somewhat guarded" but became more comfortable as the examination progressed (AR 228). His thought process was linear, and his thought content was logical (AR 228). Dr. Aydin found his insight and judgment were fair (AR 228). He diagnosed him with a mood disorder not otherwise specified, and "rule out post traumatic stress disorder" (AR 228). He assessed him with a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 58*fn5 and continued him on medication (AR 229).

An outpatient summary from the Achievement Center dated March 25, 2009, noted that D.S. attended two out of five scheduled sessions, and at his last appointment, it was reported that his "behavior and anger control were good at home" (AR 226). His mood was stable, ...

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