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Jackson v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

December 4, 2018

QUENTINCE JACKSON o/b/o Z.J., Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Quentince Jackson brings this action on behalf of her minor child, Z.J. (“Claimant”), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). (Doc. 1). Ms. Jackson argues that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by: (1) failing to find that Claimant qualifies for listings 112.10 (“Autistic Disorder”) and 112.12 (“Attention Deficit Disorder”); (2) failing to find that Claimant meets the functional equivalence of these listings; (3) failing to accord proper weight to the report and opinion of consulting psychologist Dr. Sizelove; (4) failing to properly evaluate all of Claimant's medically severe impairments in rendering its decision; and (5) failing to support its denial of benefits with substantial evidence. (Doc. 10). Because the ALJ did not state with particularity the weight it gave to Dr. Sizelove's Psychological Evaluation Report or the reasons why it may have discredited his opinion, the court WILL REVERSE and REMAND the Commissioner's decision for further proceedings.


         Z.J. was seven years old at the time of the administrative hearing and in the process of repeating the first grade. (R. at 15). Ms. Jackson claims that her daughter became disabled due to: “Autism Spectrum Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Persistent Depressive Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Accommodative Esotropia, strabismus (crossed eyes), and severe headaches.” (R. at 152).

         Ms. Jackson filed a Title XVI application for SSI on behalf of Z.J. (R. at 165-68). The Social Security Administration initially denied these claims. (R. at 104-07). Ms. Jackson then filed a written request for a hearing (r. at 152-64), which was granted. (See R. at 56). Thereafter, the ALJ issued an opinion concluding Z.J. was not disabled as defined under the Social Security Act and denied the application for SSI. (R. at 39-50).

         Ms. Jackson, through her attorney, filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 6-8). However, the Appeals Council found no basis for changing the ALJ's decision and denied Ms. Jackson's request. (R. at 1-3). As a result, the decision of the Appeals Council became the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of appeal.

         After exhausting her administrative remedies, Ms. Jackson filed a complaint with this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision. (Doc. 1). The Commissioner answered on February 26, 2018. (Doc. 8). Ms. Jackson filed a brief in support of disability (doc. 10), and the Commissioner responded with a brief in support of affirmance (doc. 11).


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a Social Security claimant may obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision after exhausting all available administrative remedies. On appeal, the court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is based on substantial evidence and the application of correct legal standards. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). The court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner.]” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). The Commissioner's legal conclusions are reviewed de novo and “no presumption of validity attaches to the Secretary's determination of the proper legal standards to be applied in evaluating claims.” Shalala, 985 F.2d at 531. “If the court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law or that it fails to provide sufficient reasoning to support its legal analysis, the ALJ's decision must be reversed.” Ware v. Colvin, 997 F.Supp.2d 1212, 1216 (N.D. Ala. 2014) (citing Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991)).


         The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) applies a three-step sequential evaluation when deciding whether a child is eligible for SSI benefits. This evaluation involves determining: (1) whether the child is engaged in “substantial gainful activity;” (2) whether the child suffers from a “medically determinable impairment(s) that is severe;” and (3) whether the child has an impairment or combination of impairments that “causes marked and severe functional limitations [that] meets or medically equals the severity of a set of criteria for an impairment in the listings, or if it functionally equals the listings.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. If a claimant does not meet the threshold requirements of any step, the ALJ will deny disability benefits.

         A medically determinable impairment “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” Id. § 416.908. Moreover, such impairments “must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings, not only by [a claimant's] statement of symptoms.” Id.

         To establish that an impairment functionally equals a listing, the child's impairment or combination of impairments must result “in ‘marked' limitations in two domains of functioning or an ‘extreme' limitation in one domain.” Id. § 416.926a(a). A “marked” limitation is defined as an impairment that “seriously interferes” with a child's “ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.” Id. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). The SSA describes an “extreme” limitation as “more than marked” but “does not necessarily mean a total lack or loss of ability to function.” Id. § 416.926a(e)(3)(i). The domains used by the SSA to determine whether a child's impairment(s) functionally equal a listed impairment are: (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.” Id. § 416.924a(b)(1)(i)-(vi).

         IV. ...

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