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Gentry v. Berryhill

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

June 15, 2018

MEGAN C. GENTRY On behalf of G.H. A MINOR PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

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

         Megan C. Gentry (“Plaintiff”) brings this action on behalf of G.H., a minor, 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”) terminating G.H.'s award of 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. 5.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

         1. Background:

         In the initial disability determination dated July 26, 2010, G.H. was found to be disabled as of February 1, 2010. (Tr. 12). On May 19, 2014, it was determined G.H. was no longer disabled as of May 1, 2014. Id. This determination was upheld on reconsideration. Id. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a video hearing before an ALJ. Id. On February 26, 2016, the ALJ held a video hearing. Id. Plaintiff and G.H. testified at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff was not represented by counsel at this hearing. Id.

         On September 23, 2016, the ALJ entered a fully unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's request for continued SSI benefits on behalf of G.H. (Tr. 9-26). In this decision, the ALJ determined the most recent favorable medical finding that G.H. was disabled was the decision dated July 26, 2010. (Tr. 15, Finding 1). This is known as the “comparison point decision” or CPD. Id. At the time of the CPD, G.H. had the following medically determinable impairments: mood disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (Tr. 15-16, Finding 2). The ALJ noted these impairments were found to be functionally equal the listings (20 CFR 416.924(d) and 416.926(a)). (Tr. 15-16, Finding 2).

         The ALJ found medical improvement occurred as of May 1, 2014. (Tr. 16, Finding 3). The ALJ determined G.H. was born on January 25, 2000 and was an adolescent as of May 1, 2014 and was currently an adolescent. (Tr. 16, Finding 4). The ALJ also determined that since May 1, 2014, the impairments G.H. had at the time of the CPD were not functionally equivalent to the Listings. (Tr. 16-25, Finding 5). The ALJ also determined the medical and other evidence established G.H. did not have an impairment at the CPD that was not considered at that time and has not developed any additional impairments subsequent to the CPD. (Tr. 25, Finding 6).

         The ALJ determined that since May 1, 2014, G.H. did not have an impairment that met, medically equaled, or was functionally equivalent to the requirements of any of the Listing of Impairments. (Tr. 25-26, Findings 7-8). Based upon these findings, the ALJ determined G.H.'s disability ended as of May 1, 2014, and G.H. had not become disabled again since that date. (Tr. 26, Finding 9).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. On July 20, 2017, the Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-3). On August 14, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on August 14, 2017. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 13-14. 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 was filed after that date, 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 ...


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