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Criswell v. Berryhill

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

February 13, 2019

KIMBERLY CRISWELL O/B/O J.D.O. minor PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. ERIN L. WIEDEMANN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Kimberly Criswell brings this action on behalf of her minor child, J.D.O., seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying J.D.O.'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 the application for SSI on her minor child J.D.O.'s behalf on September 29, 2015, alleging that J.D.O., who was six years of age when the application was filed, was disabled due to ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. (Tr. 30, 204). An administrative hearing was held on July 6, 2016, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 71-93).

         By written decision dated September 6, 2016 the ALJ found that J.D.O. had the following impairments or combination of impairments that were severe: ADHD and Depression[1]. (Tr. 33). However, the ALJ further found that as J.D.O. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that was medically or functionally equal to a listed impairment, J.D.O. was not disabled. (Tr. 33-41).

         Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied that request on January 17, 2017. (Tr. 1-6, 14-19).

         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 now ready for decision. (Docs. 14, 16).

         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). In the present case, the ALJ found that K.H.'s claim failed at step three, as J.D.O. did not have an impairment that met, or medically or functionally equaled, a listed impairment. (Tr. 33).

         III. Discussion

         First, the Court finds there is substantial evidence on the record to support the ALJ's determination that J.D.O.'s impairment did not meet or medically equal in severity any listed impairment. See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, Part B. The Court next addresses whether J.D.O.'s impairments are functionally equal to any listed impairment, or, in other words, whether “what [J.D.O.] cannot do because of [his] impairments … is functionally equivalent in severity to any listed impairment that includes disabling functional limitations in its criteria.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a).

         Functional equivalence may be established by demonstrating marked limitations in two, or extreme limitations in one of the following areas: acquiring and using information; attending and completing tasks; interacting and relating with others; moving about and manipulating objects; caring for yourself; and health and physical well-being. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.926(b)(1), 416.926a(d). The ALJ should consider all relevant evidence in the case to determine whether a child is disabled, and the evidence may come from acceptable medical sources and from a wide variety of “other sources, ” including teachers. SSR 09-2P. In fact, the Commissioner's regulations for childhood disabilities “provide that parents and teachers, as well as medical providers, are important sources of information.” Lawson v. Astrue, 2009 WL 2143754, at 9 (E.D. Mo. July 13, 2009), citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.924a.

         The ALJ determined that the facts in this case suggested that J.D.O. has marked limitations in the area of acquiring and using information; less than marked limitation in areas of attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating with others, and caring for himself; and no limitation in the areas of moving about and manipulating objects, and health and physical well-being. (Tr. 38-44). Plaintiff argues the ALJ made errors in his assessment of J.D.O.'s limitations ...


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