United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STEPHEN M. DOYLE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Angeline Shingles (“Plaintiff”) filed an
application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI
of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) on behalf
of T.S.S., a child under age 18, with an alleged disability
onset date of January 1, 2009. (R. 10). Plaintiff's
application was initially denied on July 14, 2014.
Id. Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing.
Id. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
held a hearing on June 14, 2016, and ultimately denied
Plaintiff's claim. (R. 10-24). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on July 27, 2017. (R.
1-6). As a result, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”). Id. Judicial review
proceeds pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c). 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. 10). After
careful scrutiny of the record and briefs, and for reasons
herein explained, the Court concludes that the
Commissioner's decision is to be AFFIRMED.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a
limited one. The Court's sole function is to determine
whether the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied.
See Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir.
1999); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239
(11th Cir. 1983). “The Social Security Act mandates
that ‘findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive.'” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d
1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §405(g)).
Thus, this Court must find the Commissioner's decision
conclusive if it is supported by substantial evidence.
Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir.
1997). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla-i.e.,
the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of
the existence of a fact and must include such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support the conclusion. Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d
1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997) (citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)); Foote, 67
F.3d at 1560 (citing Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d
835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982)).
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, the district court will affirm, even if the court
would have reached a contrary result as finder of fact, and
even if the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's findings. Ellison v. Barnhart,
355 F.3d 1272, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003); Edwards v.
Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991)
(quoting MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053
(11th Cir. 1986)). The Court must view the evidence as a
whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as
unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560
(citing Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th
Cir. 1986). The Court “may not decide facts anew,
reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that
of the [Commissioner], ” but rather it “must
defer to the Commissioner's decision if it is supported
by substantial evidence.” Miles v. Chater, 84
F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1997) (quoting
Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239).
Court will also reverse a Commissioner's decision on
plenary review if the decision applies incorrect law, or if
the decision fails to provide the district court with
sufficient reasoning to determine that the Commissioner
properly applied the law. Keeton v. Dep't of Health
and Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994)
(citing Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145
(11th Cir. 1991)). There is no presumption that the
Commissioner's conclusions of law are valid.
Id.; Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1236
(11th Cir. 1991) (quoting MacGregor, 786 F.2d at
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
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 expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42
U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 416.906
(same). The individual who seeks Social Security disability
benefits must prove that he or she is disabled. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(a)(3)(H)(i) (rendering the provisions from 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(5) applicable to SSI disability
applications, which places burden on claimant to prove
disability); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(a).
regulations set forth the process by which the [Social
Security Administration] determines if a child is disabled
and thereby eligible for disability benefits.”
Shinn ex rel. Shinn v. Comm'r, 391 F.3d 1276,
1278-1279 (11th Cir.2004). Under the regulations, this
process begins with the Commissioner determining whether the
child is “doing substantial gainful activity.” If
the child is performing substantial gainful activity, the
child is considered “not disabled” and is
ineligible for benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a), (b).
child is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
Commissioner next considers whether the child's
“physical or mental impairment(s)” alone or in
combination with other impairments are severe. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.924(a), (c). An impairment will be considered in a
disability application only if it arises from
“anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 20
C.F.R. § 416.908. Thus, an impairment “must be
established by medical evidence.” Id.; see
also 20 C.F.R. § 416.913(a) (the Commissioner
“need[s] evidence from acceptable medical sources to
establish whether you have a medically determinable
impairment(s)”). In contrast, non-medical evidence,
including the testimony of “[e]ducational
personnel” and “parents and other caregivers,
siblings, other relatives, friends, neighbors, and clergy,
” may be used to demonstrate that a child's
impairment is severe. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.913(d)(2),
child has a severe impairment or impairments, the
Commissioner next assesses whether the impairment
“causes marked and severe functional limitations”
for the child. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.911(b), 416.924(d).
The Commissioner uses objective criteria listed in the Code
of Federal Regulations (“C.F.R.”) to determine
whether the impairment causes severe and marked limitations.
“The 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.” Shinn ex rel.
Shinn, 391 F.3d at 1278 (citing 20 C.F.R. §
416.925(a)). “For each impairment, the Listings discuss
various limitations on a person's abilities that [the]
impairment may impose. Limitations appearing in these
listings are considered ‘marked and severe.'”
Id. 23 A child's impairment will cause
“marked and severe functional limitations” if
those limitations “meet[ ], medically equal[ ], or
functionally equal[ ] the [L]istings.” 20 C.F.R. §
416.911(b)(1); see also §§ 416.902,
416.924(a). The limitations “meet” a Listing if
the child actually suffers from the limitations specified in
the Listings for that child's severe impairment. The
limitations “medically equal” a Listing if the
child's limitations “are at least of equal medical
significance to those of a listed impairment.” 20
C.F.R. § 416.926(a)(2).
if the limitations resulting from a child's particular
impairment are not comparable to those specified in the
Listings, the Commissioner examines whether the impairment is
“functionally equivalent” to those in the
Listings. Shinn ex rel. Shinn, 391 F.3d at 1279. To
make this determination, the Commissioner examines 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 others;
(iv) Moving about and manipulating objects;
(v) Caring for [one]self; and
(vi) Health and physical well-being.
20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1). The C.F.R. contains various
“benchmarks” that children should have achieved
by certain ages in each of these life domains. See
20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(g)-(l ). A child's
impairment is “of listing-level severity, ” and
so “functionally equals the listings, ” if as a
result of the limitations stemming from that impairment the
child has “‘marked' limitations in two of the
domains [above], or an ‘extreme' limitation in one
domain.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(d); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 416.925(a).
limitations stemming from a child's severe impairment
meet, medically equal, or functionally equal the limitations
specified in the Listings, the ALJ then examines whether the
impairment “meets the duration requirement.” 20
C.F.R. § 416.924(a). An impairment meets this duration
requirement if it “[is] expected to cause death or . .
. has lasted or can be ...