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Watts v. Astrue

United States District Court, Third Circuit

June 3, 2013

DORTHAAN WATTS o/b/o D.W., Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM RE: PLAINTIFF'S REQUEST FOR REVIEW

MICHAEL M. BAYLSON, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff D.W., a minor, seeks judicial review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security Administration ("the Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1381-83(f). After careful consideration of all the relevant facts and circumstances, and for the reasons below, D.W.'s Request for Review of the November 23, 2010 decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is DENIED, and her Complaint is DISMISSED with prejudice.

II. Background

A. Procedural History

On October 9, 2008, [1] (Tr. at 176) D.W., through her grandmother and guardian, filed an application for SSI, claiming that D.W. suffers from a disability beginning on January 1, 1994, due to the severe impairments of mental retardation, depressive mood disorder, disruptive disorder, a reading disorder, a learning disorder, and asthma. (Br. at 5.) The application was denied on February 24, 2009. D.W. then filed a timely request for a hearing on April 17, 2009. On August 26, 2010, a hearing was held before ALJ Anne W. Chain at which D.W. requested a postponement to give her time to seek representation. ALJ Chain granted the postponement and rescheduled the hearing for October 26, 2010. At the October 26, 2010 hearing, D.W. was represented by an attorney and testified on her own behalf. (Tr. at 36.) D.W.'s grandmother also testified at the hearing. (Id. at 37.) On November 23, 2010, ALJ Chain denied D.W.'s application for benefits. (Id. at 13.) D.W. subsequently sought review of the decision before the Appeals Counsel. (Id. at 12.) On June 1, 2012, the Appeals Counsel denied the request for review. (Id. at 2.)

B. The ALJ's Decision

The ALJ rejected Plaintiff's claim that she suffers from mental retardation, finding instead that Plaintiff suffers from the severe impairment of borderline intellectual functioning. (Tr. at 19, 21-22.) The ALJ did, however, agree with Plaintiff that she suffers from the severe impairments of asthma, depressive mood disorder, disruptive disorder, a reading disorder, and a learning disorder. Nevertheless, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments neither meet any of the listings in the Social Security Administration's (the "SSA") Listing of Impairments found in Appendix 1to subpart P of 20 C.F.R. chapter. III, part 404 ("Appendix 1"), nor are the medical or functional equivalent of any of the listings in Appendix 1.

C. D.W.'s Grounds for Appeal

1. D.W.'s Initial Argument

Initially, D.W. raised only one issue on appeal, that the ALJ misapplied the listing for mental retardation in section 112.05 of Appendix 1. Section 112.05 states that mental retardation is "[c]characterized by significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning with deficits in adaptive functioning." Section 112.05 also contains a list of six disjunctive criteria - referred to by letters "A" through "F, " e.g., section 112.05A - satisfaction of any of which means that the claimant meets "[t]he required level of severity for" the mental retardation listing (the "Severity Criteria"). D.W. argued that the ALJ misapplied section 112.05D, which states that "the level of severity for [mental retardation] is met when... [the claimant has a] valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70 and a physical or other mental impairment imposing an additional and significant limitation of function."

Specifically, D.W. argued that:

1. She satisfies the requirements of section 112.05D because:
a. The record contains a valid full scale IQ score of 69, and
b. The ALJ found that she suffers from the severe impairments of asthma, depressive mood disorder, disruptive disorder, a reading disorder, and a learning disorder; and
2. The ALJ erred by:
a. Improperly disregarding her full scale IQ score of 69, and
b. Using an incorrect definition of "substantial limitation of function, " which caused the ALJ to improperly disregard her severe impairments when applying section 112.05D.

2. The Court's Request for Additional Briefing

The Court's review of the ALJ's decision revealed that the ALJ had, in fact, applied section 112.05 incorrectly. The ALJ's recitation of ...


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