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Suggs v. Colvin

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

December 17, 2014

APRIL A. SUGGS, o/b/o E.C.S., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff April A. Suggs ("Suggs") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act. She seeks review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), who denied her application on behalf of her minor child ("E.C.S.") for Childhood Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Suggs timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies available before the Commissioner. The case is thus ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).[1] The court has carefully considered the record and, for the reasons which follow, finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be AFFIRMED.[2]

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

ECS was six years old on her alleged onset date and nine years old on the date the ALJ issued his final decision. (Tr. 160). E.C.S. has no past relevant work experience and has never engaged in work. (Tr. 41). Suggs claims, on E.C.S.'s behalf, disability since February 3, 2009, due to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD"), oppositional defiant disorder ("ODD"), asthma and allergies. (Tr. 41, 193).

Suggs filed this application for Childhood Supplemental Security Income on February 3, 2009. (Tr. 160-166). The state agency denied her application initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 128-133). She timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on May 19, 2009. (Tr. 136). The hearing was held before an ALJ on February 15, 2011. (Tr. 77-104). The ALJ issued a decision denying her claim on March 4, 2011.[3] The Appeals Council declined to grant review of the decision on July 24, 2013.

Suggs filed a Complaint with this court on September 25, 2013, seeking review of the Commissioner's determination. (Doc. 1). The Commissioner answered on February 5, 2014. (Doc. 9). Garrard filed a supporting brief (doc. 11) on March 20, 2014, and the Commissioner responded with her own (doc. 12) on April 2, 2014.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of this 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 (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.

This 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 that 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).

IV. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder. For children, the definition requires "marked and severe functional limitations, " rather than (as for adults) the inability to do substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). To establish an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence about a "physical or mental impairment" that "must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.

For children, there is a three-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). The sequential analysis goes as follows:

First, the ALJ must determine whether the child is engaged in substantial and gainful activity. Second, if the child is not engaged in substantial and gainful activity, the ALJ must determine whether the child has an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe. Finally, at step three, the ALJ must determine whether ...

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