Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Christie v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division

May 16, 2017

JAMES NATHANEAL CHRISTIE PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         James Nathaneal Christie (“Plaintiff”) was seventeen years old when his aunt brought this action on his behalf, pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 7.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

         1. Background:

         Plaintiff filed his application for SSI on January 25, 2013, alleging disability due a mental impairment. (Tr. 226). Plaintiff was born on February 25, 1995, and was under the age of eighteen at the time of filing the application. (Tr. 74). At the time of the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff was nineteen years of age. Therefore, the ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's claim of disability under the child and adult SSI law.

         This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 157-160, 167-169). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 170). An administrative hearing was held on October 14, 2014. (Tr. 97-116). Plaintiff was present and was represented by Don Pullen at this hearing. Id.

         On January 14, 2015, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for SSI under the childhood and adult standard of disability. (Tr. 70-92). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was born on February 25, 1995 and was an adolescent when the application was filed. (Tr. 74, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since the application date. (Tr. 74, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff, before the age of 18, had the following severe impairments: adjustment disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and learning disorder. (Tr. 75, Finding 3). The ALJ also determined, however, that before the age of 18, none of Plaintiff's impairments met, medically equaled, or were functionally equivalent to the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 75, Finding 4).

         In assessing whether Plaintiff's impairments were functionally equivalent to the Listings, the ALJ assessed six domains of functioning. (Tr. 75-83, Finding 5). Specifically, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following limitations in the six domains of functioning: (1) less than marked limitation in acquiring and using information; (2) less than marked limitation in attending and completing tasks; (3) marked limitation in interacting and relating with others; (4) less than marked limitation in moving about and manipulating objects; (5) less than marked limitation in the ability to care for himself; and (6) less than marked limitation in health and physical well-being. Id. Based upon these findings, the ALJ determined Plaintiff, prior to attaining the age of 18, had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, at any time from the date Plaintiff's application was filed through the date of his decision. (Tr. 83, Finding 6).

         Since the age of 18, the ALJ determined Plaintiff developed new severe impairments of lumbar spondylosis, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar I disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. (Tr. 83, Findings 7, 8). The ALJ also determined, however, that since attainting the age of 18, none of Plaintiff's impairments met, medically equaled, or were functionally equivalent to the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4 ("Listings"). (Tr. 84, Finding 9).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) since attaining the age of 18. (Tr. 85-91, Finding 10). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC for light work with limitations. Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 91, Finding 11). The ALJ found Plaintiff had no PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform since attaining the age of 18. (Tr. 91, Finding 15). The ALJ based his determination upon the testimony of the VE. Id. Specifically, the VE testified that given all Plaintiff's vocational factors, a hypothetical individual would be able to perform the requirements of a representative occupation such as a motel cleaner with approximately 370, 000 such jobs in the nation, 57, 000 such jobs in the region, and 3, 000 such jobs in the State of Arkansas, and as a shell inspector with approximately 128, 000 such jobs in the nation, 22, 000 such jobs in the region, and 800 such jobs in the State of Arkansas. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act since February 24, 2013, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 92, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 19). On March 25, 2016, the Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-5). On April 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on April 20, 2016. ECF No. 7. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 11, 12. This case is now ready for decision.

         2.Applicable Law:

         In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). 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. See Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). 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. See Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).

         In this case, Plaintiff is seeking disability benefits on behalf of a minor child. On August 22, 1996, Congress enacted the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Public Law No. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105 (1996) (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)), which provided a more stringent standard for determining eligibility for Title XVI childhood disability benefits than the old law and prior regulations required. See Rucker v. Apfel, 141 F.3d 1256, 1259 (8th Cir. 1998); 142 Cong. Rec. H8913; H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 725, 104th Cong. 2d Sess. 328 (1996), reprinted in 1996 U.S. Code, Cong. and Ad. News 2649, 2716; Federal Register, Vol. 62, No. 28, p. 6409.

         Among other things, the new law amended Section 1614(a)(3) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3), and changed the statutory definition of disability for individuals under age eighteen (18) under the SSI program. Under the new standard, a child is entitled to disability benefits only if 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 12 months. See Pub. L. No. 104-193 § 211(a)(4)(c); 20 C.F.R. § 416.906. The new standard applies to all applicants who filed claims on or after August 22, 1996, or whose claims had not been finally adjudicated by August 22, 1996. Since Plaintiff filed his application in 2013, the new law applies.

         Under the new law, the ALJ's disability determination is based upon a three-step analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. First, the ALJ must determine whether the minor child has engaged in substantial gainful activity. If not, the ALJ will proceed to the second step where the ALJ must consider whether the child has a severe impairment. If a severe impairment is found, the ALJ will proceed to the third step. At this step, the ALJ, must consider whether the impairment meets, or is medically or functionally equivalent, to a disability listing in the Listing of Impairments (“Listings”), See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. A minor child may be disabled if his or her impairment is functionally equivalent to a disability listing, even if the minor child's impairment does not meet the standard requirements for a disability listing. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d)(1).

         A single method is provided for evaluating whether an impairment is “functionally equivalent” to a disability listing, based upon six domains of functioning. The six domains are the following: (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 himself or herself, and (6) health and physical well-being. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1). If the minor child claiming benefits has “marked” limitations in two of these domains or an “extreme” limitation in one of these domains, then the child's impairment is functionally equivalent to a disability listing. See Id. § 416.926a(a); Moore ex rel. Moore v. Barnhart, 413 F.3d 718, 721 (8th Cir. 2005).

         A “marked” limitation is a limitation that is “more than moderate” and “less than extreme.” See Id. § 416.926a(e); Lehnartz v. Barnhart, No. 04-3818, 2005 WL 1767944, at *3 (8th Cir. July 27, 2005) (unpublished). A marked limitation is one that seriously interferes with a child's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e). An “extreme” limitation is 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. See Id. “Extreme” limitation is the rating the Commissioner gives to the most serious limitations. See id.

         To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f). The fact finder only considers the plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of his or her RFC if the final stage of this analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).

         3.Discussion:

         In his appeal brief, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred (1) in finding he did not have an impairment that satisfied functional equivalence in the broad areas of development and functioning, and (2) in failing to find Plaintiff met a Listing. ECF No. 11. In ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.