United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Rose Langley, on behalf of her minor child, D.A.S., appeals
from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration ("Commissioner") denying an
application for Child's Supplemental Security Income.
(Doc. 1). Plaintiff timely pursued and exhausted available
administrative remedies, and the decision of the Commissioner
is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's
decision is due to be reversed and remanded.
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was four years old at the time the application was filed; he
was five at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's
("ALJ's") decision. (See R. 25, 37).
Plaintiff contends her son was born disabled on May 23, 2010,
primarily due to glaucoma and blindness in the right eye.
(See R. 163). During the hearing, Plaintiff
contended both eyes were at issue, together with intellectual
impairments. (R. 44, 46). Also during the hearing, the ALJ
effectively amended the disability onset date to June 23,
2014, the date the application was filed. (See R.
25, 50-51).When evaluating the disability of a child,
the regulations prescribe a three-step sequential evaluation
process. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). The first
step requires a determination of whether the child is
"doing substantial gainful activity." Id.
If he or she is, then the child is not disabled and the
evaluation stops. Id. If the child is not engaged in
substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the
ALJ to determine whether he or she suffers from a severe
impairment or combination of impairments. Id. An
impairment is considered "severe" if it causes more
than "minimal functional limitations." 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.924(c). If the impairments are not severe, the
analysis stops. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). However, if the
impairments are "severe," the third step requires
the ALJ to determine if one or more of the impairments meets
or equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of
Part 404. Id. If the child has such an impairment
which meets the durational requirement, the ALJ will find the
child is disabled. Id. If the child does not meet
each of the criteria enumerated in the listings, the ALJ must
decide whether the impairment or combination of impairments
"functionally equals" the severity of any listed
impairment. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d).
assessing a child's functional limitations, the ALJ
considers all of the relevant factors, such as: how well the
child can initiate and sustain activities, how much extra
help he or she requires, the effects of structures or
supportive settings, how the child functions in school, and
the effects of medications or other treatments on the
child's health. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a. To determine
functional equivalence, the ALJ must evaluate the child's
limitations in the following six functional areas, called
domains: (1) acquiring and using information; (2) attending
and completing tasks; (3) interacting and relating with
others; (4) moving about and manipulating objects; (5) the
ability to care for himself; and (6) health and physical
well-being. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.926a(b)(1)(i-vi). An impairment, or combination of
impairments, functionally equals a listed impairment if it
results in either "marked" limitations in two
domains or an "extreme" limitation in one
domain. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a).
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found D.A.S. had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date of
the application. (R. 25). At step two, the ALJ found D.A.S.
suffered from the following severe impairments: (1)
congenital glaucoma; (2) status post shunt placement and
penetrating keratoplasty on the right; (3) Axenfeld-Rieger
Syndrome in the right eye; and (4) dense amblyopia in the
right eye. (R. 25). Nonetheless, the ALJ determined at step
three that these impairments, whether considered singularly
or in combination, did not meet or medically equal any listed
impairment. (Id.). The ALJ found D.A.S. suffered
from "less than marked limitation" in the domains
of: (1) acquiring and using information; (2) attending and
completing tasks; (3) interacting and relating with others;
(4) moving about and manipulating objects; and (5) the
ability to care for himself. (R. 27-34). The ALJ found D.A.S.
suffered from marked limitation in the domain of health and
physical well-being. (R. 34-36). The ALJ concluded by finding
D.A.S. had not been disabled since June 23, 2014, the date
the application was filed. (R. 36-37).
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 Fed.Appx. 839, 841 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Crawford
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th
Cir. 2004)). A 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).
a 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 a court finds 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)).
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).
undersigned finds no error with the ALJ's conclusion that
D.A.S. did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment.
However, the ALJ's analysis of D.A.S.'s functional
equivalence and treatment of Plaintiff's pain testimony
applied incorrect legal standards and are not supported by
Meeting or Medically Equaling a Listing
plaintiff is disabled if his impairments meet or equal a
listed impairment. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 416.920(d). To meet a listing, the plaintiff
must "have a diagnosis included in the Listings and must
provide medical reports documenting that the conditions meet
the specific criteria of the Listings and the duration
requirement." Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1224 (11th Cir. 2002) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1525(a)-(d)). "To 'equal' a Listing, the
medical findings must be 'at least equal in severity and
duration to the listed findings.'" Id.
(quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1526(a)). "For a claimant
to show that his impairment matches a listing, it must meet
all of the specified medical criteria. An impairment
that manifests only some of those criteria, no matter how
severely, does not qualify." Sullivan v.
Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990); see also Wilkinson
v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 660, 662 (11th Cir.1987) (claimant
must "present specific medical findings that meet
various tests" to meet a listing). Finally, the Court
has an "absolute duty" to consider a combination of
impairments in order to determine whether there is medical
equivalency to a listing if it is defined in terms of
functional criteria. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528,
533-34 (11th Cir.1993).
Plaintiff contends D.A.S.'s impairments meet or medically
equal three Listings: (1) 112.05D Intellectual Disability;
(2) 112.11 Neurodevelopmental Disorders; and (3) 102.00
Special Senses and Speech. (Doc. 15 at 10-14). The ALJ found
D.A.S. did not meet Listing 102.02 but did not specifically
address the other listings Plaintiff contends apply. (R. 25).
As explained below, the ALJ's ...