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Williams v. Colvin

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

November 7, 2016

TAMIKA WILLIAMS, o.b.o. N.W., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Tamika Williams (“Williams”), on behalf of her child N.W. (“N.W.”), petitions for review of an adverse decision by Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). N.W.'s mother applied for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f, on behalf of N.W. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found N.W. had one severe impairment, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”). The ALJ found that this impairment did not functionally equal the severity of the listings.

         As explained below, the Court finds the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The Commissioner's decision is therefore AFFIRMED.

         Procedural and Factual Background

         The complete facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         Williams filed the pending application on July 18, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of July 26, 2009. The Commissioner denied the applications at the initial claim level, and Williams appealed the denial to an ALJ. On January 7, 2014, the ALJ held a hearing in which Williams amended the alleged disability onset date to Plaintiff's application date, July 18, 2012.[1]On February 21, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding N.W. was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Williams' request for review on June 5, 2015, leaving the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. Williams has exhausted all administrative remedies and 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. Chaney v. Colvin, 812 F.3d 672, 676 (8th Cir. 2016). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but is 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. Id. The court must “defer heavily” to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Wright v. Colvin, 789 F.3d 847, 852 (8th Cir. 2015). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice; a decision is not outside this zone simply because the evidence also points to an alternate outcome. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011).

         Discussion

         The Commissioner follows a three-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a child is disabled. This three-step sequence considers whether: (1) the child is engaged in any substantial gainful activity; (2) the child has an impairment that is “severe”; and (3) the child's impairment is medically or functionally equivalent[2] in severity to an impairment listed in the disability regulations. Moore ex rel. Moore v. Barnhart, 413 F.3d 718, 721 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.924).

         Here, Williams only contests the functional equivalency of N.W.'s impairment, and the Court only addresses the third step of the evaluation. See Moore, 413 F.3d at 721. At step three, the ALJ found that N.W. had a marked limitation in “acquiring and using information, ” but a less-than-marked limitation in “attending and completing tasks.”[3] Williams argues the latter finding was not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, she asserts the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to address the findings of N.W.'s treating providers; (2) assigning little weight to the opinions of Plaintiff's teachers; (3) relying on the opinions of non-examining physicians; and (4) coming to a conclusion that was inconsistent with Plaintiff's school records. As outlined below, these arguments are without merit.

         I. The ALJ properly addressed the findings of N.W.'s treating providers.

         Williams first argues the ALJ “fail[ed] to address the findings of N.W.'s treating providers.” Pl.'s Br. 17 (Doc. 8). Specifically, Williams argues the ALJ failed to take into consideration the opinions of several medical professionals indicating that N.W. had a marked limitation in attending and completing tasks. Id. at 15.

         “[A]n ALJ is not required to discuss all the evidence submitted, and an ALJ's failure to cite specific evidence does not indicate that it was not ...


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