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Hodges v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 10, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


MARK R. HORNAK, District Judge.

Plaintiff Latricia Hodges ("Ms. Hodges") brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c), for judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (-Commissioner"), who denied her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383(f).


Ms. Hodges was born on October 8, 1991. ECF No. 7-2 at 29. She graduated high school and has completed some coursework at the Community College of Allegheny County. Id. at 31-32. She has never been formally employed. Id at 32.

Ms. Hodges alleges disability as of January 8, 2010 due to various mental impairments, including oppositional defiant disorder ("ODD"), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), pervasive developmental disorder ("PDD"), anxiety disorder, arithmetic disorder, and autism. Id. at 19, 36. The record reflects that she has not engaged in substantial gainful work activity since alleging disability in January 2010. Ms. Hodges initially filed an application for SSI on January 8, 2010, in which she claimed total disability since November 1, 1994.[1] Id. at 14. The State Agency denied her claims on May 27, 2010. Id. An administrative hearing was held on July 5, 2011 before Administrative Law Judge Michael Colligan ("ALF). Id. Ms. Hodges was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing. Id. Her mother, Montique Davis, testified by telephone. Id. at 14. Karen Krull, an impartial vocational expert ("VE"), also testified at the hearing. Id.

On August 16, 2011, the ALJ rendered a decision unfavorable to Ms. Hodges in which the ALJ found that she was not under a disability within the meaning of the Act from January 8, 2010 through the date of the decision. Id. at 20-21. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on January 31, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request to review the decision of the ALJ. Id. at 2-4.

On March 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this Court, seeking judicial review of the decision of the All. ECF No. 3. The parties have filed Motions for Summary Judgment, ECF Nos. 12 and 14, and respective Briefs in Support, ECF Nos. 13 and 15. Ms. Hodges has filed a response to the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 16. She raises one ground for review - that the ALJ erred in failing to find that she was disabled per se, because her mental impairments met or equaled a Listed Impairment, namely Listing 12.05(C), which relates to intellectual disability. Ms. Hodges contends that because the ALJ erred in not finding her disabled per se, the Court should reverse the Commissioner's decision and grant her an award of SSI benefits. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence, and therefore the Court should grant its Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court concludes that the ALJ's decision as to Listing 12.05(C) was not supported by substantial evidence. Because the ALJ made an error of law in finding that Ms. Hodges failed to meet one of the criterion contained in Listing 12.05(C), and the administrative record of the case has not been fully developed as to each of the Listing 12.05(C) criteria, the Court grants Ms. Hodges' Motion for Summary Judgment to the extent that it will remand the case to the ALJ for further development of the record in accordance with this Opinion.


The Act limits judicial review of disability claims to the Commissioner's final decision. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). If the Commissioner's finding is supported by substantial evidence, it is conclusive and must be affirmed by the Court. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005). The United States Supreme Court has defined "substantial evidence" as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971). It consists of more than a scintilla of evidence, but less than a preponderance. Thomas v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 625 F.3d 798 (3d Cir. 2010).

Courts have consistently addressed the issue of a claimant's disability in terms of meeting a single disability standard under the Act. See Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 119 n.1 (3d Cir. 2002) ("This test [whether a person is disabled for purposes of qualifying for SSI] is the same as that for determining whether a person is disabled for purposes of receiving social security disability benefits [DIB]. Compare 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 with § 404.1520."); Morales v. Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 315-16 (3d Cir. 2000) (stating claimants' burden of proving disability is the same for both DIB and SSI).

When resolving the issue of whether an adult claimant is or is not disabled, the Commissioner utilizes a five-step sequential evaluation. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. This process requires the Commissioner to consider, in sequence, whether a claimant (1) is working, (2) has a severe impairment, (3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of a Listed Impairment, (4) can return to his or her past relevant work, and (5) if not, whether he or she can perform other work. See 42 U.S.C. § 404.1520; Newell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 347 F.3d 541, 545-46 (3d Cir. 2003) ( quoting Burnett v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 220 F.3d 112, 118-19 (3d Cir. 2000)).

To qualify for disability benefits under the Act, a claimant must demonstrate that there is some "medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity for a statutory twelve-month period." Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38-39 (3d Cir. 2001) (internal citation omitted); 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(1) (1982). This may be done in two ways:

(1) by introducing medical evidence that the claimant is disabled per se because he or she suffers from one or more of a number of serious impairments delineated in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. See Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458 (1983); Newell, 347 F.3d at 545-46; Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004); or,

(2) in the event that claimant suffers from a less severe impairment, by demonstrating that he or she is nevertheless unable to engage in "any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy...." ...

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