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White v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

June 19, 2017

SARAH WHITE, on behalf of Z. WHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Dlott, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Karen L. Litkovitz, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiffs application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs statement of errors (Doc. 12), the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 17), and plaintiffs reply memorandum (Doc. 18).

          I. Procedural Background

          Plaintiff was born in 1999 and was 16 years old at the time of the administrative law judge's ("ALJ") decision. Plaintiffs mother. Sarah White, filed an application for child's SSI benefits on plaintiffs behalf in September 2012, alleging disability due to anxiety and uncontrollable bowels. Plaintiffs application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff, through a non-attorney representative, requested and was granted a de novo hearing before ALJ Peter J. Boylan. Plaintiff and his mother appeared and testified at the ALJ hearing. On May 11, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiffs application. Plaintiffs request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, making the ALJ's decision the final administrative decision of the Commissioner.

         II. Analysis

         A. Legal Framework for Disability Determinations

          To qualify for SSI as a child under the age of 18, plaintiff must file an application and be an "eligible individual" as defined in the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a); 20 C.F.R. § 416.202. Eligibility is dependent upon disability, income, and other financial resources. Id. An individual under the age of 18 is considered disabled for purposes of SSI "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).

         The Social Security regulations set forth a three-step sequential analysis for determining whether a child is disabled for purposes of children's SSI benefits:

1. Is the child engaged in any substantial gainful activity? If so, benefits are denied.
2. Does the child have a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments? If not, benefits are denied.
3. Does the child's impairment meet, medically equal, or functionally equal any impairment in the Listing of Impairments, Appendix I of 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P. 20 C.F.R. §416.924(a)? If so, benefits are granted.

20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)-(d). An impairment which meets or medically equals the severity of a set of criteria for an impairment in the listings, or which functionally equals a listed impairment, causes marked and severe functional limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d).

         In determining whether a child's impairment(s) functionally equal the listings, the adjudicator must assess the child's functioning in six 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. Heath and physical-being.

20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)(i)-(vi). To functionally equal an impairment in the listings, an impairment must result in "marked" limitations in two domains of functioning or an "extreme" limitation in one domain. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(d). The relevant factors that will be considered in making this evaluation include (1) how well the child initiates and sustains activities, how much extra help he needs, and the effects of structured or supportive settings; (2) how the child functions in school; and (3) how the child is affected by his medications or other treatment. 20 C.F.R. §416.926a(a)(1)-(3).

         An individual has a "marked" limitation when the impairment "interferes seriously with [the] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities." 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). A "marked" limitation is one that is "more than moderate" but "less than extreme." Id. An "extreme" limitation exists when the impairment "interferes very seriously with [the] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities." 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(3)(i). Day-to-day functioning may be "very seriously limited" when only one activity is limited by the impairment or when several activities are limited by the impairment's cumulative effects. Id.

         If the child's impairment meets, medically equals, or functionally equals an impairment in the listings, and if the impairment satisfies the Act's duration requirement, then the child is considered disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d)(1). If both of these requirements are not satisfied, then the child is not considered disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d)(2).

         B. The Administrative Law Judge's Findings

         The ALJ applied the sequential evaluation process and made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The [plaintiff] was born [in] 1999. Therefore, he was an adolescent on September 25, 2012, the date [the] application was filed, and is currently an ...

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