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Dunn v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

March 11, 2015



STEPHEN C. RIEDLINGER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Latoya K. Dunn brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for judicial review and appeal of a final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner), Carolyn W. Colvin, denying the claim for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits she filed on behalf of her daughter, K.D. (hereafter, referred to as the plaintiff).

Based on the standard of judicial review under § 405(g), a careful review of the entire administrative record as a whole, and the analysis that follows, the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed.

Standard of Review and Applicable Law

The court's review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether that decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. Harris v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 413, 417 (5th Cir. 2000). If substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings, they are conclusive and must be affirmed. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (1971); Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is that which is relevant and sufficient for a reasonable mind to accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It is more than a mere scintilla and less than a preponderance. Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994); Carey v. Apfel, 230 F.3d 131, 135 (5th Cir. 2000). A finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate only if no credible evidentiary choices or medical findings support the decision. Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704 (5th Cir. 2001); Harris, supra . In applying the substantial evidence standard the court must review the entire record as whole, but may not reweigh the evidence, try the issues de novo, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, even if the evidence weighs against the Commissioner's decision. Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner and not the court to resolve. Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 2002).

If the Commissioner fails to apply the correct legal standards or provide a reviewing court with a sufficient basis to determine that the correct legal principles were followed, it is grounds for reversal. Western v. Harris, 633 F.2d 1204, 1206 (5th Cir. 1981); Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982).

An individual under the age of 18 is considered disabled if that individual "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." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(I); Harris, 209 F.3d at 418. A three step sequential analysis is used to evaluate claims for children's SSI benefits. These steps are: (1) Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity? (2) Does the claimant have a severe impairment or combination of impairments? (3) Does the claimant's impairment meet, medically equal, or functionally equal in severity a listed impairment in Appendix 1? 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)-(d).

At the third step, if a claimant's impairments do not meet or medically equal any listing, a determination is made as to whether the impairments result in limitations that functionally equal a listing. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). Functional equivalency requires consideration of how the claimant functions in terms of six domains, which are broad areas of functioning intended to capture all of what a child can or cannot do. The six domains are: 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. 20 C.F.R. § 417.926a(b)(1)(I)-(vi). A claimant's impairments functionally equal the listings if they are of listing-level severity. Impairments are of listing-level severity if the claimant has marked limitations in two domains, or an extreme limitation in one domain. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(d).

Limitation in a domain is "marked" when impairments interfere seriously with the claimant's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. Daily functioning may be seriously limited when impairments limit only one activity or when the interactive and cumulative effects of impairments limit several activities. Marked limitation is more than moderate, but less than extreme. Extreme limitations in a domain occur when a claimant's impairments interfere very seriously with the ability to independently initiate, sustain or complete activities. An extreme limitation means more than marked, and is also the rating given to the worst limitations. However, this does not necessarily mean a total lack or loss of ability to function. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(I) and 3(I).

Background and Claims of Error

An application was filed on behalf of the plaintiff for children's SSI benefits on December 29, 2010, claiming that the plaintiff was disabled beginning April 2006 due to behavior and mental impairments. AR pp. 124-29. The application was denied and the plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). A hearing was held before the ALJ and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. AR pp. 10-53.

The ALJ found at the second step of the claim evaluation process that the plaintiff's impairment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), was severe. However, the ALJ determined at the third and final step that the plaintiff's impairments did not meet any of the listed impairments found in 20 C.F.R. Ch. III, Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appendix 1, Part B, nor did they medically or functionally equal any listed impairment. AR pp. 13-14. On the issue of functional equivalency the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff had no limitations in the domains (areas) of functioning, moving about and manipulating objects, caring for herself, and health and physical well-being. The ALJ found less than marked limitations in the domains of acquiring and using information, and attending and completing tasks. But the ALJ did find marked limitations in the domain of interacting and relating with others. AR pp. 18-23. Because the plaintiff did not have marked limitations in two domains, or an extreme limitation in one domain, the ALJ found the plaintiff did not have impairments that functionally equaled the listings. Therefore, his decision rendered on March 22, 2012 was the plaintiff was not disabled and not entitled to SSI benefits. When the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff was 12 years of age at the time of the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies before filing this action for judicial review.

In the Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of Appeal[1] she plaintiff argued that the following errors require reversal and remand under sentence four of § 405(g): (1) the ALJ erred by not evaluating and finding that her depression and disruptive behavior disorder are severe impairments; (2) the ALJ erred in finding she did not meet or medically equal Listing 112.11 for ADHD; and (3) the ALJ erred in finding no limitation in the ...

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