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Davis v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

August 16, 2019


         SECTION “J” (3)



         Plaintiff Kendra Davis, on behalf of her minor child K.M., filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying her 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. The issues are thus 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

         Plaintiff protectively filed her application for SSI on March 19, 2015, alleging that K.M. had a disability onset date of July 1, 2014. (Adm. Rec. at 11, 102). Plaintiff alleged disability due to a speech impairment. (Id. at 126). Plaintiff, born on February 21, 2010, was 4 years old on the date on which plaintiff alleged disability. (Id. at 92). As of the date of the application, K.M. was a preschooler and - need it be said - had no past work experience.

         Defendant initially denied plaintiff's application on December 23, 2014. (Id. at 45). Plaintiff sought an administrative hearing, which defendant held on July 26, 2016. (Id. at 26-45). Plaintiff and K.M. testified at the hearing.

         On April 5, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision in which she concluded that K.M. is not disabled. (Id. at 11-22). The ALJ utilized the three-step evaluation process for determining a child's disability to evaluate K.M.'s condition. (Id.). At Step One, the ALJ found that K.M., then a preschooler, had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date. (Id. at 14). At Step Two, the ALJ found that K.M. had the severe impairment of a speech delay. (Id.). At Step Three, the ALJ found that K.M.'s severe impairment did not meet or medically equal the severity of any listed impairment. (Id.). The ALJ then applied the analysis set forth at 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a to find that K.M.'s severe impairment did not functionally equal the severity of any listed impairment. (Id. at 14-22). Thus, the ALJ determined that K.M. was not disabled under the Act from the application date through the date of the decision. (Id.).

         Plaintiff asked the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's conclusion that K.M. is not disabled, and, on March 28, 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 “substantial 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).


         A child is entitled to disability benefits if he or she has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that cause marked and severe functional limitations, and that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.906, 416.924. The ALJ employs the following three-step sequential evaluation process in evaluating childhood disability cases: (1) Is the child engaged in substantial gainful activity?; (2) Does the child have a severe impairment or combination of impairments?; and (3) Does the severe ...

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