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T.L.H. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

September 26, 2017

T.L.H., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN RUSS WALKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         In this appeal, plaintiff T.L.H., a minor child, challenges the Commissioner's final decision [2] denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. See Doc. 1; Doc. 12. In reviewing Administrative Law Judge D. Burgess Stalley's (“ALJ”) adverse decision, the court upholds factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence. See Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993); Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991). However, no presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the proper legal standards to be applied. 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, the ALJ's decision must be reversed. See Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145-46.

         The parties have consented to entry of final judgment by the Magistrate Judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Doc. 10; Doc. 11. For the reasons stated herein, and based upon its review of the record, the court finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Child Disability

         “Federal regulations set forth the process by which the SSA determines if a child is disabled and thereby eligible for disability benefits.” Shinn ex rel. Shinn v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 391 F.3d 1276, 1278 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(I) and 20 C.F.R. § 416.906). “The process begins with the ALJ determining whether the child is ‘doing substantial gainful activity, ' in which case [he] is considered ‘not disabled' and is ineligible for benefits.” Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924(a), (b)). “The next step is for the ALJ to consider the child's ‘physical or mental impairment(s)' to determine if [he] has ‘an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe.”' Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. §§ 416.924(a), (c)). “For an applicant with a severe impairment, the ALJ next assesses whether the impairment ‘causes marked and severe functional limitations' for the child.” Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.911(b), 416.924(d)). This determination is made according to objective criteria set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations (“C.F.R.”).

As the Eleventh Circuit has explained,
[t]he C.F.R. contains a Listing of Impairments [“the Listings”, found at 20 C.F.R. § 404 app.] specifying almost every sort of medical problem (“impairment”) from which a person can suffer, sorted into general categories. See Id. § 416.925(a). For each impairment, the Listings discuss various limitations on a person's abilities that impairment may impose. Limitations appearing in these listings are considered “marked and severe.” Id. (“The Listing of Impairments describes ... impairments for a child that cause [ ] marked and severe functional limitations.”).
A child's impairment is recognized as causing “marked and severe functional limitations” if those limitations “meet[ ], medically equal[ ], or functionally equal[ ] the [L]istings.” Id. § 416.911(b)(1); see also §§ 416.902, 416.924(a). A child's limitations “meet” the limitations in the Listings if the child actually suffers from the limitations specified in the Listings for that child's severe impairment. A child's limitations “medically equal” the limitations in the Listings if the child's limitations “are at least of equal medical significance to those of a listed impairment.” Id. § 416.926(a)(2).

Id. at 1278-79.

Finally, even if the limitations resulting from a child's particular impairment[s] are not comparable to those specified in the Listings, the ALJ can still conclude that those limitations are ‘functionally equivalent' to those in the Listings. In making this determination, the ALJ assesses the degree to which the child's limitations interfere with the child's normal life activities. The C.F.R. specifies six major domains of life:
(i) Acquiring and using information;
(ii) Attending and completing tasks;
(iii) Interacting and relating with ...

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