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Briggs v. Berryhill

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

June 27, 2018

GLORIA BRIGGS, o/b/o CDB, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Gloria Briggs (hereinafter “Plaintiff”), brings this action on behalf of a minor child, C.D.B. (hereinafter “the claimant”), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's claim for child supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq. On April 11, 2018, the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 19). Thus, this case was referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings through entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. (Doc. 20). Oral argument was conducted on May 16, 2018. (Doc. 22). Upon careful consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is hereby ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.

         I. Procedural History [1]

         Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income benefits on behalf of the claimant on March 28, 2014, when he was eight years old. (Doc. 11 at 162). Plaintiff alleged that the claimant has been disabled since January 1, 2011, due to “ADHD” (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). (Id. at 179, 182). Plaintiff's application was denied at the initial stage on July 1, 2014. (Id. at 106). Plaintiff filed a timely Request for Hearing, and on November 19, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Marni McCaghren (hereinafter “ALJ”) held an administrative hearing, which was attended by Plaintiff (the claimant's grandmother and legal guardian), the claimant (who at the time was nine years old), and Plaintiff's attorney. (Id. at 41).

         On February 1, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that the claimant is not disabled. (Id. at 21). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 26, 2017. (Id. at 5). Therefore, the ALJ's decision dated February 1, 2016, became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed the present civil action. (Doc. 1). The parties agree that this case is now ripe for judicial review and is properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         II. Issue on Appeal Whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's assignment of weight to the expert opinions in this case?

         III. Factual Background

         The claimant was born on November 29, 2005, and was eight years old at the time that the Plaintiff (the claimant's grandmother and legal guardian) filed an application for supplemental security income benefits on March 28, 2014, alleging that the claimant was disabled as a result of ADHD. (Doc. 11 at 162, 179). According to Plaintiff, the claimant lives with her and receives treatment at Alta Pointe with Dr. Eric Leonhardt, M.D., for ADHD, mental retardation, autism, and anxiety disorder. (Doc. 12 at 2; Doc. 11 at 324).

         At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified that the claimant was nine years old and in the third grade, that he was in regular classes but received special accommodation, that he repeated the first grade, that his grades were poor, that he had trouble with understanding and comprehension, and that he had been suspended from school and after school care for behavioral issues such as hitting, throwing things, refusing to sit down, and temper tantrums. She also testified that he was dismissed from a football team for fighting with his teammates. (Id. at 46, 57-58). The claimant takes medication for ADHD and attends therapy once a month. (Id. at 54-60).

         IV. Standard of Review

         In reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to determining 1) whether the decision of the Secretary is supported by substantial evidence and 2) whether the correct legal standards were applied.[2]Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding substantial evidence is defined as “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance” and consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, a court must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable, as well as unfavorable, to the Commissioner's decision. Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986); Short v. Apfel, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10163, *4 (S.D. Ala. June 14, 1999).

         V. Statutory and Regulatory Framework - Childhood Disability Law

         The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, which amended the statutory standard for children seeking supplemental security income benefits based on disability, became effective on August 22, 1996. See Pub. L. No. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105 § 211(b)(2) (1996) (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1382c). The definition of “disabled” for children is:

An individual under the age of 18 shall be considered disabled . . . if that individual 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 ...

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