United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
HAROLD WILLIAMS, o.b.o. R.W., Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Scott Coogler United States District Judge
plaintiff, R.W., a minor, by and through her father, Harold
Williams, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
child's Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”).
The plaintiff timely pursued and exhausted her administrative
remedies, and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for
review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
was thirteen years old and had completed the seventh grade at
the time of the Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ's”) hearing. (Tr. at 18, 36.) Plaintiff
alleged disability based on a learning disability. (Tr. at
Commissioner has developed a specific sequential evaluation
process for determining whether a child claimant is disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924; Shinn ex rel.
Shinn v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 391 F.3d 1276, 1278-79
(11th Cir. 2004) (describing the process for determining
disability for children). The first step requires the ALJ to
determine whether the claimant is engaged in substantial
gainful activity (“SGA”). See 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.924(a), (b). At step two, the ALJ determines
whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination
of impairments. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a),
(c). At step three, the ALJ determines whether the
claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets
or medically equals the criteria of an impairment in the
Listings or functionally equals the Listings. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 416.902, 416.911(b) 416.924(a-d); see
also 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. A child's
functional limitations are evaluated under six broad
functional areas called domains: (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 wellbeing. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.926a(b)(1). To establish functional equivalency, a
claimant must demonstrate her impairments resulted in
“marked” limitations in two domains of
functioning or an “extreme” limitation in one
domain. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a), (d).
Functional equivalence is not with respect to a particular
listing, but to the Listings overall. See 20 C.F.R.
416.924(d)(1). If functional equivalency is not established,
an ALJ will find the claimant not disabled under the Act.
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that the
plaintiff has not engaged in SGA since the date the
application was filed. (Tr. at 16.) He found that she had the
following severe impairments: learning disorder and
depression, and the following non-severe impairment: obesity.
(Tr. at 16-17.) However, he concluded that these impairments
neither meet, medically equal, nor functionally equal the
severity of the Listings, evaluating Plaintiff's
abilities under each of the six domains as described above.
(Tr. at 17.) The ALJ concluded his findings by stating that
Plaintiff has not been disabled as defined in the Social
Security Act since November 30, 2012, the date the SSI
application was filed. (Tr. at 25).
Standard of Review
Court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social
Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of its review is
limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial
evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of
the Commissioner, and (2) whether the correct legal standards
were applied. See Stone v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
544 F. App'x 839, 841 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing
Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155,
1158 (11th Cir. 2004)). This Court gives deference to the
factual findings of the Commissioner, provided those findings
are supported by substantial evidence, but applies close
scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v.
Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996).
this Court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir.
2005) (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232,
1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004)). “The substantial evidence
standard permits administrative decision makers to act with
considerable latitude, and ‘the possibility of drawing
two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not
prevent an administrative agency's finding from being
supported by substantial evidence.'” Parker v.
Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J.,
dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Fed. Mar.
Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if
this Court finds that the proof preponderates against the
Commissioner's decision, it must affirm if the decision
is supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d
at 1400 (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520,
1529 (11th Cir. 1990)). That said, although the court may not
decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute
its own judgement for that of the commissioner, the
commissioners conclusions of law are subject to denovo
review. See Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007).
no decision is automatic, for “despite th[e]
deferential standard [for review of claims], it is imperative
that th[is] Court scrutinize the record in its entirety to
determine the reasonableness of the decision reached.”
Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987)
(citing Arnold v. Heckler, 732 F.2d 881, 883 (11th
Cir. 1984)). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal
standards is grounds for reversal. See Bowen v.
Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
plaintiff alleges that the ALJ's decision should be
reversed and remanded for three reasons. First, she believes
that the ALJ erred in finding her father's testimony not
entirely credible. Second, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ
erred in finding she did not meet, equal, or functionally
equal the Listings. Third, she argues that the ALJ should
have further developed the record by re-contacting Quality of
Life Health Services, Inc., for additional information about
Credibility Determination of Father's Testimony
case, the child did not testify. Her father testified as
follows: his daughter suffers from depression; she has low
Global Assessment of Functioning(“GAF”) scores;
she has completed seventh grade and has been promoted to
eighth grade; she repeated kindergarten; at the beginning of
the school year, she was making D's and F's; he has
to stand over her to make sure she does her homework; she has
chores she has to do at home, but she doesn't do them;
she has friends that come over and spend the night, but she
will isolate herself from the friend; she has had
disciplinary reports from school; she doesn't follow
directions in the hallway, she is tardy, and she got into
fights; she is in special education classes; she is unable to
read and is unable to count money; she can take care of
personal hygiene needs, but she has to be reminded to brush
her hair and ...