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Jackson v. Berryhill

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

August 10, 2018

CHANDRA RENA JACKSON o/b/o D.T.J., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WALLACE CAPEL, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Chandra Rena Jackson, on behalf of her minor daughter D.T.J., applied for child's supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The application was denied at the initial administrative level. Plaintiff then requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision in which he found D.T.J. not disabled since the date the application was filed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. The ALJ's decision consequently became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”).[1] See Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). Plaintiff then sought review of the Commissioner's decision in this court. In an Order entered on August 13, 2014, this court, the Honorable W. Keith Watkins, Chief United States District Judge, reversed the Commissioner's decision and remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings. See Order (Doc. 27), Jackson v. Colvin, Civ. No. 2:13-cv-442-MEF (Aug. 13, 2014). On remand to the Commissioner, the ALJ conducted another administrative hearing and subsequently entered a written decision again finding D.T.J. not disabled. Plaintiff again sought review at the Appeals Council, which denied review, thereby making the ALJ's decision on remand the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff has again sought review in this court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties have consented to the conduct of all proceedings and entry of a final judgment by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. Pl.'s Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. 11); Def.'s Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. 12). Based on the court's review of the record and the briefs of the parties, the court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 includes the standard for defining child disability under the Social Security Act. See PUB. L. NO. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105, 2188 (1996). The statute provides that an individual under age eighteen (“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 expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i) (1999).

         The sequential analysis for determining whether a child claimant is disabled is as follows:

1. If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled.
2. If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a physical or mental impairment which, whether individually or in combination with one or more other impairments, is a severe impairment. If the claimant's impairment is not severe, she is not disabled.
3. If the impairment is severe, the Commissioner determines whether the impairment meets the durational requirement and meets, medically equals, or functionally equals in severity an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, and Appendix 1. If the impairment satisfies this requirement, the claimant is presumed disabled.

See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)-(d) (1997); see also Shinn ex rel. Shinn v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 391 F.3d 1276, 1278 (11th Cir. 2004).

In determining whether an impairment functionally equals a listed impairment, the ALJ must consider the child's ability to function in six different “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. If the child has “marked” limitations in two of these domains, or an “extreme” limitation in any one domain, then his impairment functionally equals the listed impairments, and he will be found to be disabled. A “marked” limitation is one that seriously interferes with the child's ability to initiate, sustain, or complete activities. An extreme limitation is one that “very seriously” interferes with the child's ability to initiate, sustain, or complete activities.

Coleman ex rel. J.K.C. v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 454 Fed.Appx. 751, 752 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted).

         The Commissioner's regulations provide that if a child's impairment or impairments are not medically equal to, or functionally equivalent in severity to, a listed impairment, the child is not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d)(2) (1997). In reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the court asks only whether the ALJ's findings concerning the steps are supported by substantial evidence. “Under this limited standard of review, [the court] may not make fact-findings, re-weigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [ALJ].” Bryant v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 478 Fed.Appx. 644, 645 (11th Cir. 2012) (citing Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005)). “Where substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's fact findings exists, [the court] cannot overturn those findings even if other substantial evidence exists that is contrary to the ALJ's findings.” Id. (citing Barron v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 227, 230 (11th Cir. 1991)); see also McMillian, o/b/o A.T.F. v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 521 Fed.Appx. 801, 802 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)) (“‘Even if the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner's] factual findings, we must affirm if the decision reached is supported by substantial evidence.'”).

         III. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         D.T.J. was sixteen years old at the time of the administrative hearing before the ALJ on remand. See Tr. 400. Following the hearing, the ALJ found at Step One that D.T.J. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity at any time since the application date of June 23, 2010. Tr. 366. The ALJ found at Step Two that D.T.J. has the severe impairments of “asthma, chronic dermatitis, food allergy, and allergic rhinitis.” Id. Next, the ALJ concluded under Step Three that these impairments do not meet or medically equal in severity the criteria for any impairment in the Listing of Impairments. Tr. 366-368. The ALJ further found that D.T.J.'s impairments do not functionally equal in severity any such listings because D.T.J. has either less than marked limitations or no limitations in each of the six domains of function. Id. at 368-89. Consequently, the ALJ found that D.T.J. was not disabled. Tr. 389.

         IV. PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS

         In her “Statement of the Issues, ” Plaintiff presents four issues for this court's consideration in review of the ALJ's decision: (1) “WHETHER SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE SUPPORTS THE CLAIM THAT D.T.J.'S IMPAIRMENTS MEET OR FUNCTIONALLY EQUAL THE CHILDHOOD LISTING OF IMPAIRMENTS;” (2) “WHETHER PROPER WEIGHT WAS GIVEN TO MEDICAL OPINIONS OF D.T.J.'S TREATING SOURCES;” (3) “WHETHER THE ALJ ERRED AS A MATTER OF LAW IN EVALUATING THE SEVERITY OF THE COMBINED EFFECT OF D.T.J.'S IMPAIRMENTS;” AND (4) “WHETHER THE ALJ WAS BIASED AND FAILED TO FOLLOW PROCEDURES.” Doc. 16 at 1.

         V. DISCUSSION

         A. Whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision that D.T.J.'s impairments do not meet or medically equal ...


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