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Johnson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 3, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          KETANJI BROWN JACKSON United States District Judge.

         In May of 2011, the mother of then-minor Brijohnea Johnson applied to the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) for supplemental benefits on behalf Johnson, claiming that Johnson was disabled due to a learning disability, difficulty concentrating, stress, depression, and Johnson's status as HIV positive. (AR, ECF No. 7-9, at 88.)[1] An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on Johnson's application in September of 2014, and ultimately, the ALJ determined that Johnson is not disabled under the Social Security Act. (AR, ECF No. 7-2, at 33-54.)[2] In the instant lawsuit, Johnson requests that this Court reverse the ALJ's denial decision and grant her benefits, or alternatively, Johnson seeks a remand of this case to the Commissioner for a new hearing regarding benefits. (See generally Compl., ECF No. 1.)

         On June 8, 2016, this Court referred this matter to a Magistrate Judge for full case management. (See Min. Order of June 8, 2016.) On July 14, 2016, Johnson filed a motion seeking reversal of the ALJ's decision denying her application on the grounds that the ALJ had mistakenly assessed her residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and had erroneously determined that her impairment was not functionally equivalent to a listed impairment. (Mem. in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. for J. of Reversal, ECF No. 10-1, at 4-12.) On August 29, 2016, the Commissioner filed a motion seeking affirmance of the ALJ's decision; the agency's motion maintains that the record contains substantial evidence to support both the ALJ's assessment of Johnson's residual functional capacity and the ALJ's determination that Johnson's limitations “in the domains of acquiring and using information and attending and completing tasks” were not sufficient to qualify for benefits. (Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Her Mot. for J. of Affirmance & in Opp'n to Mot. for J. of Reversal, ECF No. 11, at 10-12.)

         Before this Court at present is the comprehensive Report and Recommendation that the assigned Magistrate Judge (Deborah A. Robinson) has filed regarding Johnson's motion for reversal and Defendant's motion for affirmance. (See R. & R., ECF No. 16.)[3] The Report and Recommendation reflects Magistrate Judge Robinson's opinion that Johnson's motion for reversal should be granted in part, and that Defendant's motion for affirmance should be denied. (See Id. at 1, 13.) Specifically, Magistrate Judge Robinson finds that the ALJ's decision regarding Johnson's RFC did not comport with a governing regulation that provides that the ALJ's RFC determination “‘must contain a narrative discussion identifying the evidence that supports each conclusion' and ‘explain how [she] considered and resolved any material inconsistencies or ambiguities evidence in the record[.]'” (R. & R. at 9 (quoting Butler v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 992, 1000 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (alterations in original)).) Magistrate Judge Robinson further finds that the ALJ failed to explain adequately whether, and to what extent, the ALJ credited the opinion that Plaintiff's former special education instructor proffered regarding Johnson's functional limitations. (Id. at 10-13.)

         The Report and Recommendation also specifically advises the parties that either party may file written objections to the Report and Recommendation, which must include the portions of the findings and recommendations to which each objection is made and the basis for each such objection. (Id. at 13.) The Report and Recommendation further advises that the failure to file timely objections may result in waiver of further review of the matters addressed in the Report and Recommendation. (Id.) Under this Court's local rules, any party who objects to a Report and Recommendation must file a written objection with the Clerk of the Court within 14 days of the party's receipt of the Report and Recommendation, LCvR 72.3(b), and as of the date of the instant Opinion-more than three months and a half months after the Report and Recommendation was issued-no objections have been filed.

         This Court has reviewed Magistrate Judge Robinson's Report and Recommendation and agrees with its careful and thorough analysis and conclusions. In particular, the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge that the ALJ failed to explain sufficiently the reasons underlying her determination regarding Johnson's RFC, in violation of SSR 96-8p (see R. & R. at 8-10), and that the ALJ's statements regarding the weight that she afforded to the opinion of Johnson's former teacher on the question of Johnson's functional limitations are deficient and, in fact, self-contradictory (id. at 10-13). As a result, this Court concurs with Magistrate Judge Robinson's conclusion that "the ALJ's determinations were not made in accordance with the applicable law[, ]" and that remand to the agency for further proceedings is warranted. (Id. at 13.)

         In sum, in the absence of any timely-filed objections, and after conducting its own review of this matter, this Court accepts Magistrate Judge Robinson's analysis of the ALJ's findings and the record evidence in full, and will ADOPT the Report and Recommendation in its entirety. Accordingly, Plaintiff's [10] Motion for Judgment of Reversal will be GRANTED IN PART, that Defendant's [11] Motion for Judgment Affirmance will be DENIED, and this matter well be REMANDED to the Social Security Administration for further administrative proceedings consistent with the Report and Recommendation.

         A separate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.

         Appendix A

         BRIJOHNEA JOHNSON, Plaintiff, v.

         NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

         Civil Action No. 16-603 KBJ/DAR


          DEBORAH A. ROBINSON United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Brijohnea Johnson seeks judicial review of an unfavorable decision by the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her claims for supplemental security income benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Complaint (ECF No. 1). This case was referred to the undersigned for full case management. 06/08/2016 Docket Entry.

         Currently pending for consideration are Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment of Reversal (ECF No. 10), and Defendant's Motion for Judgment of Affirmance (ECF No. 11). Upon consideration of the motions, the memoranda in support thereof and in opposition thereto, and the entire record herein, the undersigned will recommend that the court deny Defendant's motion and grant Plaintiff's motion in part.[1]


         On May 18, 2011, Plaintiff's mother protectively filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income on behalf of Plaintiff, who was at that time a minor. Administrative Record (“AR”) (ECF No. 7) at 220-23, 270, 273. Plaintiff reached eighteen years of age after the initial application was filed, but before the Administrative Law Judge issued her decision. See Id. at 32. Accordingly, Plaintiff seeks both an award of child benefits and an award of adult benefits for the corresponding time periods. See Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment of Reversal (“Plaintiff's Mem.”) (ECF No. 10-1) at 4-12. On her disability report, Plaintiff's mother identified several disabling conditions for her child: a learning disability, difficulty concentrating, stress, depression, and Plaintiff's status as HIV positive. See Id. at 273. Plaintiff's mother provided a disability onset date of December 4, 2009. Id. Plaintiff's application was initially denied by the SSA, and was denied again upon reconsideration. See Id. at 124, 130.

         Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing, see Id. at 134-35, and appeared before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on September 11, 2014, see Id. at 62. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on November 28, 2014. See Id. at 27.[2] In her decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date. Id. at 38. Additionally, the ALJ recognized that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “mood disorder due to medical condition; learning disorder; and depression[.]” Id. The ALJ also found that before reaching the age of eighteen, Plaintiff “did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, Part A or B[.]” Id. at 39. Finally, the ALJ found that before reaching the age of eighteen, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that “functionally equaled the listings[.]” Id. at 40.

         With regard to the Plaintiff's adult claims, the ALJ found that Plaintiff continued to experience severe impairments, but that those impairments did not “meet[] or medically equal[] a listed impairment[.]” Id. at 49. Lastly, the ALJ found that, as an adult, Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform:

a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: The claimant's work is limited to simple as defined in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles as SVP levels 1 and 2. The claimant is limited to routine and repetitive tasks. She is limited to occasional decision-making and judgment. The claimant is limited to only occasional changes in the work setting. She is precluded from production rate or pace work. The claimant is limited to tasks, which are learned ...

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