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Cobb v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division

August 22, 2014

MALAIKA COBB, o/b/o Z.G.B., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ABDUL K. KALLON, District Judge.

Plaintiff Malaika Cobb ("Cobb") brings this action on behalf of her son, Z.G.B. ("the Claimant"), pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA"). This court finds that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision - which has become the decision of the Commissioner - is supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, for the reasons elaborated herein, the court will affirm the decision denying benefits.

I. Procedural History

Cobb protectively filed an application on behalf of her minor child, Z.G.B., for the child's Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"), alleging a disability onset date of April 1, 2008, due to Asthma. (R. 10, 172). After the SSA denied his claim, the Claimant requested a hearing before an ALJ. (R. 101). The ALJ subsequently denied the Claimant's claim, (R. 7-24), which became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council refused to grant review. (R. 1-6). Cobb then filed this action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). Doc. 1.

II. Standard of Review

The only issues before this court are whether the record contains substantial evidence to sustain the ALJ's decision, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982), and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. See Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) mandates that the Commissioner's "factual findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence.'" Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). The district court may not reconsider the facts, reevaluate the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner; instead, it must review the final decision as a whole and determine if the decision is "reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." See id. (citing Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)). Substantial evidence falls somewhere between a scintilla and a preponderance of evidence; "[i]t is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Martin, 849 F.2d at 1529 (quoting Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239) (other citations omitted). If supported by substantial evidence, the court must affirm the Commissioner's factual findings even if the preponderance of the evidence is against the Commissioner's findings. See Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529. While the court acknowledges that judicial review of the ALJ's findings is limited in scope, it notes that the review "does not yield automatic affirmance." Lamb, 847 F.2d at 701.

III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

A claimant under the age of eighteen is considered disabled if the claimant has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and which is expected to result in death, or which has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(I). The regulations define the statutory standard of "marked and severe functional limitations" in terms of "listing-level severity." 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.902, 416.906, 416.924(a), 416.926a(a); see 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 (the listings). The Commissioner has developed a specific sequential evaluation process for determining whether a child claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. The three-step process requires a child to show: (1) that he is not working; (2) that he has a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments; and (3) that his impairment or combination of impairments is of listing-level severity, that is, the impairments meet, medically equal, or functionally equal the severity of an impairment in the listings. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924.

If a child claimant is not working and has a severe impairment, the ALJ must determine if the child's impairments meet or medically equal an impairment listed in the listings. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)-(d). An impairment medically equals a listing "if it is at least equal in severity and duration to the criteria of any listed impairment." If the claimant's impairments do not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the ALJ must then determine if the child's impairments are, instead, functionally equivalent in severity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924(d), 416.926a(a). For the child's impairments to functionally equal a listed impairment, they must result in "marked" limitations in two domains of functioning or an "extreme" limitation in one domain. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). The ALJ considers the child's functioning in terms of six domains: (1) acquiring and using information; (2) attending and completing tasks; (3) interacting and relating with others; (4) moving about and manipulating objects; (5) caring for himself; and (6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)(I)-(vi). If the impairments do not satisfy the duration requirements, or do not meet, medically equal, or functionally equal one of the listings, a finding of not disabled is reached and the claim is denied. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d)(2).

IV. The ALJ's Decision

In performing the three step analysis, initially, the ALJ determined that the Claimant has not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since his alleged disability onset date. (R. 13). Next, in satisfaction of Step Two, the ALJ found that the Claimant suffers from the severe impairment of "asthma." Id. Finally, at Step Three, the ALJ concluded that the Claimant's impairments did not meet, medically equal, or functionally equal any of the listed impairments and, therefore, found that the Claimant was not disabled. (R. 13-14).

V. Analysis

The court now turns to Cobb's contentions that the ALJ erred by failing to (1) find the Claimant met listing 103.03B; and (2) fully develop the record by utilizing a medical expert. See doc. 10 ...


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