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Singleton v. Berryhill

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

May 3, 2017

BRENDA SINGLETON ON BEHALF OF A.C.G. A MINOR CHILD PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration [1] DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. ERIN L. WIEDEMANN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Brenda Singleton, Plaintiff, brings this action on behalf of A.C.G., a minor child, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her claim on behalf of the minor child for supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits under the provisions of 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 A.C.G.'s behalf on June 15, 2012. (ECF No. 10, pp. 21, 145). In her application, Plaintiff alleges A.C.G. is disabled due to heart problems, kidney problems, right foot problems, and speech problems. (ECF No. 10, p. 137). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of March 15, 2012. (ECF No. 10, pp. 21, 137). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 10, pp. 61-62).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on the denied application, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No. 10, p. 78). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on August 12, 2013, in Fort Smith, Arkansas (ECF No. 10, pp. 38-69). Plaintiff and A.C.G. were present and were represented by attorney Wayne Young. Id. Plaintiff testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, A.C.G. was five (5) years old and enrolled in kindergarten.

         After this hearing, on June 10, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application on behalf of A.C.G. for SSI benefits. (ECF No. 10, pp. 17-33). In this decision, the ALJ found A.C.G. had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since June 15, 2012, the application date. (ECF No. 10, p. 24, Finding 2). The ALJ determined A.C.G. had the following severe impairments: Cardiovascular Disorder (Congenital Anomalies, bicuspid aortic valve with long segment of the aortic arch) (7460/4590) and Genitourinary Disorder (Congenital Anomalies of the Urinary System, vesicoureteral reflux with renal atrophy) (7530). (ECF No. 10, p. 24, Finding 3). Despite being severe, the ALJ determined these impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Part 404 (“Listings”). (ECF No. 10, pp. 24-25, Finding 4). The ALJ then determined these impairments did not functionally equal the severity of the Listings. (ECF No. 10, pp. 25-32, Finding 5). The ALJ determined A.C.G. had no limitation in acquiring and using information, attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating with others, moving about and manipulating objects, and the ability to care for himself; the ALJ determined A.C.G. had less than marked limitation in his health and physical well-being. Id. Because A.C.G. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that resulted in either marked limitation in two domains of functioning or extreme limitation in one domain of functioning, the ALJ determined A.C.G. had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from June 15, 2012, through June 10, 2014, the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 10, p. 32, Finding 6).

         Thereafter, on August 14, 2014, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council (ECF. No. 10, pp. 11-16). The Appeals Council denied this request on October 13, 2015. (ECF No. 10, pp. 5-10). On December 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. (ECF No. 1). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on January 8, 2016. (ECF No. 7). This case is now ready for decision.

         II. Applicable Law:

         This Court's role is to determine whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings. Vossen v. Astrue, 612 F.3d 1011, 1015 (8th Cir. 2010). 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. Teague v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 611, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). We must affirm the ALJ's decision if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Blackburn v. Colvin, 761 F.3d 853, 858 (8th Cir. 2014). 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. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015). 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, we must affirm the ALJ's decision. Id.

         In determining Plaintiff's claim, the ALJ must follow the sequential evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. Under this standard, a child must prove he or 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.

         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(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) limits several activities. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(3).

         III. Discussion:

         Plaintiff raises three issues on appeal: 1) the minor child's kidney disorders medically equal Listing 106.08; 2) the ALJ failed to consider approximately one hundred sixty (160) pages of medical evidence; and 3) the ALJ failed to provide legally sufficient ...


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