United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
JOHN E. OTT, District Judge.
Plaintiff Sharee Moore, on behalf of her minor daughter O.S.G., brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. (Doc. 1). The case has been assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to this court's general order of reference dated January 14, 2013. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for disposition of the matter. (Doc. 9). See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), FED. R. CIV. P. 73(a). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On September21, 2010, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI on behalf of O.S.G., alleging disability beginning August 1, 2010, due to a hearing impairment. (R. 121-26, 144). The claim was denied initially. (R. 68-69). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on May 15, 2012. (R. 51-67). Following the hearing, the ALJ found that O.S.G. is not disabled. (R. 47).
Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. (R. 25-26). The Appeals Council denied the request for review on May 20, 2013. (R. 1-5). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff then filed this action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of the court is to determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This court must "scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. It is "more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Id.
The court must uphold factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal conclusions de novo because no presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning for determining the proper legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
III. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
An individual under the age of 18 is considered disabled if she "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). Social Security regulations provide a three-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a child is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). The Commissioner must determine in sequence (1) whether the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the child has an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe; and (3) whether the child has an impairment that meets, medically equals, or functionally equals the Listing of Impairments. Id .; see also Gibbs v. Barnhart, 130 F.Appx. 426, 428-29 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)).
An impairment is "medically equal" to a listed impairment if it is "at least equal in severity and duration to the criteria of any listed impairment." 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(a). An impairment is "functionally equal" to a listed impairment if it is "of listing-level severity; i.e., it 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 regulations identify six domains of functioning to be considered in determining whether a child's impairment is functionally equal to a listed impairment: (i) acquiring and using information; (ii) attending and completing tasks; (iii) interacting and relating with others; (iv) moving about and manipulating objects; (v) caring for yourself; and (vi) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)(i-vi). A "marked" limitation in a domain of functioning is found when an impairment "seriously" interferes with a child's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). An "extreme" limitation in a domain is found when an impairment "very seriously" interferes with a child's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(3)(i).
IV. FINDINGS OF THE ALJ
At the time of the ALJ's decision, O.S.G. was four years old. (R. 56). The ALJ found that O.S.G. has the severe impairments of bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and a mixed receptive and expressive language delay, but that her impairments do not meet or medically equal the criteria of Listing 102.10, the listing for children's hearing loss not treated with cochlear implantation. (R. 33-34). The ALJ further found that O.S.G.'s impairments do not functionally equal a listing. (R. 35). In making this finding, the ALJ specifically found that O.S.G. has a less than marked limitation in acquiring and using information; a less than marked limitation in attending and completing tasks; a marked limitation in interacting and relating with others; a less than marked limitation in moving about and manipulating objects; a ...