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Mask v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Northern Division

April 16, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, DEFENDANT




         This recommended disposition has been submitted to United States District Judge D.P Marshall Jr. The parties may file specific objections to these findings and recommendations and must provide the factual or legal basis for each objection. The objections must be filed with the Clerk no later than fourteen (14) days from the date of the findings and recommendations. A copy must be served on the opposing party. The district judge, even in the absence of objections, may reject these proposed findings and recommendations in whole or in part.


         Plaintiff, Amelia Mask, on behalf of her minor son, EKM, has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration to deny her claim for supplemental security income. Both parties have submitted briefs and the case is ready for a decision.

         EKM was previously found to be disabled under the Social Security Act on May 10, 2012 - the comparison point decision (CPD). (Tr. 251.) The Commissioner determined EKM had the medically determinable impairments of Bartter's syndrome, [1] growth delays, and speech delays, and these impairments medically equaled Listing 111.09. (Id.) However, upon a disability review, the Commissioner determined he was no longer disabled as of October 1, 2015, because he had medically improved and did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or equaling an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.[2] (Tr. 248-271.)

         To determine whether a claimant under the age of 18 continues to be disabled, the Commissioner uses a three-step evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.994a(b). The ALJ first found EKM had experienced medical improvement with his impairments as of October 1, 2015. (Tr. 252-258.) She next determined EKM's impairments - that previously medically equaled Listing 111.09 at the time of the CPD - no longer met or medically equaled Listing 111.09 as of October 1, 2015. (Tr. 258.) She also determined EKM's impairments did not functionally equal a Listing. (Id.) Finally, the ALJ found that, considering EKM's combined impairments, he has not met, medically equaled, or functionally equaled a listing since October 1, 2015. (Tr. 270.) Accordingly, the ALJ found EKM's disability ended as of October 1, 2015, and he has not become disabled again since that date. (Id.)

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5). Plaintiff initiated the instant Complaint challenging the decision of the Commissioner. (Doc. No. 2.)

         In support of the Complaint, Plaintiff says, “The ALJ erred in failing to give opinions of Dr. Gray the weight they are entitled to under the treating physician's rule.” (Doc. No. 12 at 9.) Adam C. Gray, M.D., has been EKM's treating physician for nearly his entire life. (Tr. 1251.) He is a family doctor but completed a residency in nephrology. (Tr. 323-324.) Plaintiff seemed very genuine in her description of Dr. Gray as “an amazing practitioner.” (Tr. 324.)

         Dr. Gray submitted a Child's Medical/Functional Assessment. (Tr. 1093-1095.) Dr. Gray's assessment reports that EKM is extremely limited by his Bartter's Syndrome. (Id.) If Dr. Gray's assessment was given great weight, EKM would likely be considered disabled.

         In evaluating Dr. Gray's assessment, the ALJ gave Dr. Gray's report little weight and concluded:

In reaching a decision in this case, the undersigned has also considered the opinion(s) expressed by the primary care physician, Dr. Adam Gray in Exhibits 28F and 33F. However, for reasons as stated or outline [sic] in significant detail within this decision above, the undersigned finds the opinion(s) of Dr. Gray inconsistent with the evidence of record as a whole, including some degree of internal inconsistency with some of Dr. Gray's own records regarding the overall persistence and/or severity of symptoms since on or about October 1, 2015. Specifically, upon a thorough consideration of the objective medical evidence as a whole, as included above, the undersigned Administrative Law Judge does not find support for the degree of functional limitations advocated or assessed by Dr. Gray. Notably, in Exhibit 28, Dr. Gray opines “extreme” limitations in overall functioning (Ex. 28F/3), but alternatively states that Bartter's Syndrome results in only “occasional extreme “and “frequent moderate” limitations. No other physician or medical specialist involved in the claimant's care, and no teacher involved with the claimant in the classroom, has ever suggested or opined such severe functional limitations. Additionally, there is no evidence from which to conclude the claimant has manifested such severe functional limitations either at home, or in and academic setting. Finally, as addressed in detail above, records provided through the claimant's treating specialists at Arkansas Children's Hospital or other medical specialist facilities, appear to repeatedly reference normal physical examination findings.

(Tr. 264.)

         I have carefully reviewed the overall evidence of record. This case is an extremely difficult one because of the sympathetic nature of the claim and the genuine testimony of EKM's family. And from a practical matter, it is without question that EKM has chronic issues from Bartter's syndrome. However, given ...

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