United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MONICA M. WOODARD, o/b/o M.K.M.B., Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN, Senior District Judge.
Plaintiff M.K.M.B., a minor child born in 1998, filed an application for supplemental security income ("SSI") by and through her step-mother, Monica Woodard, on March 16, 2011. Upon review of the record, the submissions of the parties, and the relevant law, the court is of the opinion that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on March 16, 2011. (R. 60.) Her application was denied by the Social Security Administration ["SSA"], (R. 61), and plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ["ALJ"], which was held on March 5, 2013, (R. 29). After the hearing, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 23.) In light of this finding, the ALJ denied plaintiff's request for SSI on April 12, 2013. (R. 24.)
On May 3, 2013, plaintiff petitioned the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision, (R. 5), and on February 20, 2014, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, (R. 1). Following denial of review by the Appeals Council, plaintiff filed an appeal in this court on April 9, 2014. (Doc. 1.)
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
In reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act, this court "is limited to an inquiry into whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner, and whether the correct legal standards were applied." Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002); see also Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988). The court gives deference to factual findings and reviews questions of law de novo. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991). The court "may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner]; rather the court must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)) (internal quotations and other citation omitted). "The Commissioner's factual findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence." Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1221 (citing Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529; Allen v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 600, 602 (11th Cir. 1987)). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
Conclusions of law made by the Commissioner are reviewed de novo. Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145. "[N]o... presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] conclusions of law." Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982).
A. THE THREE-STEP EVALUATION
The definition of child's SSI disability provides that a claimant under the age of eighteen shall be considered disabled if the claimant 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). 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 also 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.
1. Substantial Gainful Employment
First, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b). If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner will find that the claimant is not disabled, regardless of the claimant's medical condition or her age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b).
The ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 16, 2011, the application date. (R. 14.)
2. Severe Impairments
At step two, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment that is "severe" or a combination of impairments that is "severe." 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). For an individual who has not attained the age of 18, a medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments is not severe if it is a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities that causes no more than minimal functional limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c). If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments, he is not disabled.
The ALJ determined that plaintiff had severe impairments of "post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [and] depressive disorder not otherwise specified." (R. 14.)
3. The Listings
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 in the listings. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)-(d). If the child's impairments do not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the ALJ must then determine if the child's impairments are functionally equivalent in severity to a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924(d), 416.926a(a). For the child's impairments to functionally equal a listed impairment, the child's impairments must result in "marked" limitations in two domains of functioning or an "extreme" limitation in one domain. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(d). 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 yourself; and (6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1).
A child has a "marked" limitation in a domain when her impairment(s) "interferes seriously" with the ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. A child's day-to-day functioning may be seriously limited when the impairment(s) limits only one activity or when the interactive and cumulative effects of the impairment(s) limit several activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2). A child has an "extreme" limitation in a domain when her impairment(s) interferes "very seriously" with the ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(3).
The ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listing or that functionally equaled a listing. (R. 14.)
B. MS. WOODARD'S CLAIMS
Plaintiff argues that (1) the ALJ did not properly consider all medical evidence in determining plaintiff's severe impairments, (2) the ALJ's finding that plaintiff did not meet listing 112.08 is unsupported by substantial evidence, (3) the ALJ did not properly consider the evidence in determining whether plaintiff's condition functionally equaled a listing under the domains of interacting and relating with others and attending and completing tasks, and (4) the ALJ ignored the medical opinion of Dr. Jon Rogers without providing a sufficient ...