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Allison v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

July 21, 2015

MICHELE ALLISON, o/b/o C.D.S., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Michele Allison ("Allison") seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's ("Commissioner") denial of an application for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f, which she filed on behalf of her son, C.D.S. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that C.D.S. suffered from several severe mental impairments, but they did not functionally equal the severity of any listed impairments. The ALJ thus found C.D.S. not disabled.

Because substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the Commissioner's denial of benefits is AFFIRMED.

Factual and Procedural Background

A summary of the entire record is presented in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary. Allison filed C.D.S.'s application on July 28, 2011, alleging disability based upon vision problems and mental ailments. The Commissioner denied the application, and Allison subsequently requested an administrative hearing. On April 29, 2013, after the hearing, the ALJ affirmed the denial of benefits. The Social Security Administration Appeals Council then denied review on June 11, 2014, leaving the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. Since Allison has exhausted all administrative remedies, judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

Standard of Review

A federal court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough evidence that a reasonable mind would find it sufficient to support the Commissioner's decision. Id. In making this assessment, the court considers evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision, as well as evidence that supports it. McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000). The court must "defer heavily" to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice, and a decision is not outside this zone simply because the court might have decided the case differently were it the initial finder of fact. Buckner, 646 F.3d at 556.

Analysis

The childhood disability analysis entails a three-step process. See Moore ex. rel . Moore v. Barnhart, 413 F.3d 718, 721 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.924). First, the Commissioner determines whether the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity. Id. Second, if the child is not, then the Commissioner considers whether he suffers from any severe impairments. Id. Third, if the child does have a severe impairment or impairments, then the Commissioner must determine whether the impairment or a combination of impairments medically or functionally equals the severity of an impairment listed in the regulations. Id.

An impairment is "functionally equal" to a listing if it results in two "marked" limitations or one "extreme" limitation in the following "domains" of functioning: (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." See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a), (b)(1). A limitation is "marked" if it "interferes seriously with [the child's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities." Id. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). A limitation is "extreme" if it "interferes very seriously with the [the child's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities." Id. § 416.926a(e)(3)(i) (emphasis added).

Here, the ALJ found that C.D.S. was not engaged in gainful activity and he had two severe mental impairments: impulse disorder and intermittent explosive disorder. R. at 12-13. Proceeding to the third step, the ALJ found that C.D.S. had a marked limitation in "attending and completing tasks, " but he suffered from less than marked limitations in the remaining domains of functioning. R. at 17-24. The ALJ thus found C.D.S. was not disabled.

Allison challenges the ALJ's determinations at steps two and three. As for step two, Allison argues that the ALJ erred by not recognizing C.D.S.'s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD") as a severe impairment. With respect to step three, Allison argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) improperly discrediting the opinion of C.D.S.'s treating psychiatrist Jyotsna Nair, M.D. ("Dr. Nair"); and (2) failing to find at least marked limitations in the functional domains of "interacting and relating with others, " "caring for yourself, " and "acquiring and using information." The Court addresses each argument in turn.

I. The ALJ's omission of ADHD as a severe impairment does not require remand.

Allison contends that Dr. Nair's diagnosis of ADHD is sufficient to warrant "severe impairment" status, and thus, the ALJ erred in ...


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