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Evans v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 31, 2018


         SECTION “AJ” (3)



         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying her minor child's claim for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA"). The matter has been fully briefed on cross-motions for summary judgment and is ripe for review. For the following reasons, IT IS RECOMMENDED that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be DENIED, the Commissioner's cross-motion be GRANTED, and plaintiff's case be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On behalf of her minor child (“claimant”), plaintiff filed an application for SSI on November 26, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of June 7, 2013. (Adm. Rec. at 122-30). Claimant alleged disability due to an enlarged kidney, speech problems, developmental delays, and asthma. (Id. at 143). Claimant, born on January 6, 2010, was three years old on the date on which she alleged disability and six years old at the time of the final administrative decision. (Id. at 122). Claimant is a preschooler. (Id. at 147). She has no past work experience.

         Defendant initially denied claimant's application on October 10, 2014. (Id. at 80-91). Plaintiff sought an administrative hearing, which defendant held on July 17, 2015. (Id. at 43-79). Plaintiff testified at the hearing.

         On March 3, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision in which he found that claimant has not been disabled since June 30, 2013. (Id. at 10-28). In the decision, the ALJ concluded that claimant has the severe impairments of phonological order, borderline intellectual functioning, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (“ADHD”), asthma, disruptive behavior disorder, and autistic spectrum disorder. (Id. at 13). The ALJ held that claimant does not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that meets or medically equals a listed impairment under the regulations. (Id. at 14-15). The ALJ found that claimant has marked limitation in attending and completing tasks, less than marked limitation in acquiring and using information, interacting and relating with others, and health and physical well-being, and no limitation in moving about and manipulating objects and caring for herself. (Id. at 21-28). The ALJ thus concluded that claimant is not disabled.

         Plaintiff asked the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's conclusion that claimant is not disabled. (Id. at 1033-41). On February 23, 2017, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request. (Id. at 1-5). Plaintiff then timely filed this civil action.


         The function of a district court on judicial review is limited to determining whether there is “Asubstantial evidence” in the record, as a whole, to support the final decision of the Commissioner as trier of fact, and whether the Commissioner applied the appropriate legal standards to evaluate the evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Brown v. Apfel, 192 F.3d 492, 496 (5th Cir.1999); Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir.1995); Carriere v. Sullivan, 944 F.2d 243, 245 (5th Cir.1991). If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, this Court must affirm them. Martinez, 64 F.3d at 173.

         “Substantial evidence” is that which is relevant and sufficient for a reasonable mind to accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401(1971); Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 2002). It is more than a scintilla, but may be less than a preponderance. Spellman v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir.1993). A finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate only if no credible evidentiary choices or medical findings exist to support the Commissioner's decision. See Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704 (5th Cir. 2002).

         A district court may not try the issues de novo, re-weigh the evidence, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Carey v. Apfel, 230 F.3d 131, 135 (5th Cir. 2000); Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir.1995); Spellman, 1 F.3d at 360. The Commissioner is entitled to make any finding that is supported by substantial evidence, regardless of whether other conclusions are also permissible. See Arkansas v. Oklahoma, 503 U.S. 91, 112-13 (1992). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner to resolve, not the courts. Carey, 230 F.3d at 135. Any of the Commissioner's findings of fact that are supported by substantial evidence are conclusive. Ripley, 67 F.3d at 555. Despite this Court's limited function on review, the Court must scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached and whether substantial evidence exists to support it. Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 295 (5th Cir.1992); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1022 (5th Cir.1990).


         The ALJ uses a three-step sequential process to determine whether an individual under the age of 18 is disabled. In this three-step process, the ALJ considers:

1) whether the claimant is currently engaging in substantial gainful activity, as an individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found disabled, regardless of the medical findings;
2) whether the claimant has a “severe” impairment or a combination of impairments that is “severe”; and
3) whether the claimant meets or equals a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a); Verrett v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec'y, No. Civ. A. 99-3647, 2001 WL 179922 at *1 n.7 (E.D. La. 2001). To determine whether a minor claimant is disabled, the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments must result in marked limitations in two domains of functioning or an extreme limitation in one domain. The six domains of functioning are: (1) acquiring and using information; (2) attending and completing tasks; (3) interacting and relating with others; (4) moving about and manipulating objections; (5) caring for yourself; and (6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1).


         Before the Court is a motion to supplement the record [Doc. #13] filed by plaintiff. In her motion for summary judgment, plaintiff asks the Court to remand this case to the ALJ for consideration of the new supplemental evidence. Because these issues are inextricably intertwined, the Court will treat them together.

         Plaintiff has submitted approximately 150 pages of additional evidence to this Court and asks it to supplement the record. [Doc. #13]. Generally, this Court can not consider evidence outside the transcript of the administrative record when it reviews the findings in the ALJ's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security . . .”); Carrier v. Sullivan, 944 F.2d 243, 247 (5th Cir. 1991) (“We are constrained by the record which was available to the ALJ.”).

         However, this Court “may at any time order additional evidence to be taken before the Secretary, but only upon a showing that there is new evidence which is material and that there is good cause for the failure to incorporate such evidence into the record in a prior proceeding. . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 405(g). To justify a remand, then, the evidence must be (1) new, (2) material, and (3) good cause must be shown for the failure to incorporate the evidence into the record in a prior proceeding. Dorsey v. Heckler, 702 F.2d 597, 604 (5th Cir. 1983). To interpret the materiality requirement, the Fifth Circuit has held that “a remand to the Secretary is not justified if there is no reasonable possibility that it would have changed the outcome of the Secretary's determination.” Chaney v. Schweiker, 659 F.2d 676, 679 (5th Cir. 1981). Further, “[i]mplicit in the materiality requirement . . . ‘is that the new evidence relate to the time period for which benefits were denied, and that it not concern evidence ...

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