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Nelson v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

March 12, 2015

JIMMY NELSON O/B/O T.N., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ERIN L. SETSER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Jimmy Nelson, brings this action on behalf of his minor daughter, T.N., seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying T.N.'s application for child's supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"). In this judicial review, the Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

I. Procedural Background

Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI on T.N.'s behalf on November 30, 2010, alleging that T.N. was disabled since February 1, 2007, due to diabetes, thyroid problems, and asthma. (Tr. 15, 132). An administrative hearing was held on June 7, 2012, at which Plaintiff testified and was represented by counsel. (Tr. 33-55). By a written decision dated August 10, 2010, the ALJ found T.N.'s insulin dependant diabetes mellitus and asthma were severe impairments. (Tr. 18). The ALJ, however, found that T.N. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments medically or functionally equal to a listed impairment, and that T.N. was not disabled. (Tr. 18-28).

Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied the request on September 18, 2013. (Tr. 1-4). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 7). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Doc. 12, Doc. 13).

II. Applicable Law:

This Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. The ALJ's decision must be affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003). As long as there is substantial evidence in the record that supports the Commissioner's decision, the Court may not reverse it simply because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because the Court would have decided the case differently. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). In other words, if after reviewing the record it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the findings of the ALJ, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).

The regulations prescribe a three-step process for making the disability determination. First, the ALJ must determine whether the child has engaged in substantial gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R. 416.924(b). Second, the ALJ must determine whether the child has a severe impairment or combination of impairments. See 20 C.F.R. 416.924(c). Third, the ALJ must determine whether the severe impairment(s) meets, medically equals, or functionally equals a listed impairment. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d).

Functional equivalence may be established by demonstrating marked limitations in two, or an extreme limitation in one of the following domains: 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. § § 416.926(b)(1), 416.926a(d). SSR 09-1p explains that the Commissioner evaluates the "whole child" in making a functional equivalence finding. A marked limitation in a domain is an impairment that seriously interferes with a child's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2). An extreme limitation very seriously interferes with the child's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(3). The ALJ should consider all relevant evidence to determine whether a child is disabled, and the evidence may come from acceptable medical sources and from a wide variety of other sources. SSR 09-2P. The Commissioner's regulations provide that parents and teachers, as well as medical providers, are important sources of information. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924.

III. Discussion:

Plaintiff argues on appeal the ALJ erred by (1) failing to find T.N.'s hypothyroidism, enuresis, and patent foramen ovale ("PFO") were severe impairments, and (2) failing to find T.N. met the severity of a listed impairment. (Doc. 12 at 13).

A. Severe Impairments

At Step Two of the sequential analysis, the ALJ is required to determine whether a claimant's impairments are severe. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). An impairment is severe within the meaning of the regulations if it significantly limits an individual's ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An impairment or combination of impairments is not severe when medical and other evidence establish only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities that would have no more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1521, 416.921. The Supreme Court has adopted a "de minimis standard" with regard to the severity standard. Hudson v. Bowen, 870 F.2d 1392, 1395 (8th Cir. 1989).

The ALJ addressed all of T.N.'s impairments in the written decision and evaluated her thyroid condition, enuresis, and PFO, but found these conditions were not severe impairments. (Tr. 18-21).

Plaintiff did not list enuresis or PFO as a basis for disability on the application. Plaintiff also did not discuss T.N.'s hypothyroidism, enuresis, and PFO at the hearing. The failure to list these conditions as a basis for disability or discuss the conditions at the hearing tends to indicate the conditions were not severe. See Dunahoo v. Apfel, 241 F.3d 1033, 1039 (8th Cir. 2001); see also Pena v. Chater, 76 F.3d 906, 909 (8th Cir. 1996)(stating an ALJ is under no obligation to investigate a claim neither presented at the time of the application for benefits nor offered at the hearing).

The record reflects T.N.'s hypothyroidism and enuresis were controlled by treatment. (Tr. 288-291, 320-321, 351). In February 2010, Dr. Deborah Hays, one of T.N.'s treating physicians, documented T.N.'s hypothyroidism was controlled and her urinary problems were not serious. (Tr. 263). Although T.N. had new urinary problems later in the year, they were resolved with pull-ups and medications, and the ...


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