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Hale v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

September 24, 2014

EMILY HALE o/b/o S.C.H., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI, Chief Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff brings this action on behalf of S.C.H., a minor child, seeking judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner), denying A.B.'s application for child's supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

I. Background

Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on S.C.H.'s behalf on November 2, 2010. (Tr. 108.) Plaintiff alleged that S.C.H. was disabled due to Asthma, and ADHD Combined Type. (Tr.135.) An administrative hearing was held on May 18, 2012 in front of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Harold D. Davis. (Tr. 27.) Plaintiff and S.C.H. were present and represented by counsel. (Tr. 28.)

The ALJ, in a written decision dated August 3, 2012, found that although severe, S.C.H.'s history of Asthma and ADHD did not meet, medically equal, or functionally equal one of the impairments listed in 20 C. F. R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14.) He concluded that S.C.H. had less than marked limitation in the domain of "attending and completing tasks, " and no limitations in the other domains. (Tr. 18-21.)

On September 26, 2013, the Appeals Council declined to review this decision. (Tr. 1.) Subsequently, plaintiff filed this action. (ECF No. 1.) Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the matter is now ready for decision.

II. Standard of Review

The Court's review is limited to whether the decision of the Commissioner to deny benefits to the plaintiff is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 416 (8th Cir. 1996). Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla of evidence, it means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. See Richardson v. Pearles, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The court must consider both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision, but the denial of benefits shall not be overturned even if there is enough evidence in the record to support a contrary decision. Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996).

In determining the plaintiff's claim, the ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process, set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. Under this most recent standard, a child must prove that she has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(c)(I); 20 C.F.R. § 416.906.

When passing the law, as it relates to children seeking SSI disability benefits, Congress decided that the sequential analysis should be limited to the first three steps. This is made clear in the House conference report on the law, prior to enactment. Concerning childhood SSI disability benefits, the report states:

The conferees intend that only needy children with severe disabilities be eligible for SSI, and the Listing of Impairments and other current disability determination regulations as modified by these provisions properly reflect the severity of disability contemplated by the new statutory definition.... The conferees are also aware that SSA uses the term "severe" to often mean "other than minor" in an initial screening procedure for disability determination and in other places. The conferees, however, use the term "severe " in its common sense meaning.

142 Cong. Rec. H8829-92, 8913 (1996 WL 428614), H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 104-725 (July 30, 1996).

Consequently, under this evaluation process, the analysis ends at step three with the determination of whether the child's impairments meet or equal any of the listed impairments. More specifically, a determination that a child is disabled requires the following three-step analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). First, the ALJ must consider whether the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b). If the child is so engaged, he or she will not be awarded SSI benefits. See id. Second, the ALJ must consider whether the child has a severe impairment. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c). A severe impairment is an impairment that is more than a slight abnormality. See id. Third, if the impairment is severe, the ALJ must consider whether the impairment meets or is medically or functionally equal to a disability listed in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "Listings"). See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c). Only if the impairment is severe and meets or is medically or functionally equal to a disability in the Listings, will it constitute a disability within the meaning of the Act. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d). Under the third step, a child's impairment is medically equal to a listed impairment if it is at least equal in severity and duration to the medical criteria of the listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(a). To determine whether an impairment is functionally equal to a disability included in the Listings, the ALJ must assess the child's developmental capacity in six specified domains. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1). The six domains are: (1) acquiring and using information; (2) attending and completing tasks; (3) interacting and relating with others; (4) moving about and manipulating objects; (5) caring for yourself; and, (6) health and physical well-being. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1); see also Moore ex rel. Moore v. Barnhart, 413 F.3d 718, 722 n. 4 (8th Cir. 2005).

If the child claiming SSI benefits has marked limitations in two categories or an extreme limitation in one category, the child's impairment is functionally equal to an impairment in the Listings. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(d). A marked limitation is defined as an impairment that is "more than moderate" and "less than extreme." A marked limitation is one which seriously interferes with a child's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2). An extreme limitation is defined as "more than marked, " and exists when a child's impairment(s) interferes very seriously with his or her ability to independently initiate, sustain or complete activities. Day-to-day functioning may be very seriously limited when an impairment(s) limits only one activity or when the interactive and cumulative effects of the impairment(s) limit several activities. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(3).

III. Discussion

Plaintiff raises two issues on appeal: 1) the ALJ erred when found that S.C.H. met Listing 112.11; and 2) the ALJ erred in discounting Plaintiff's subjective complaints as not credible. (Tr.)

A. Listing 112.11

Under Childhood Listing 112.11, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is "[m]anifested by developmentally inappropriate degrees of ...


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