Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Allen v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

December 6, 2016

SHELEATRICE ALLEN, on behalf of J.J., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER [1]

          John M. Bodenhausen UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Sheleatrice Allen ("Plaintiff), on behalf of J. J., a minor, appeals the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant") denying disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 401 etseq. Because Defendant's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, as discussed below, it is REVERSED and this cause is REMANDED for additional proceedings. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         I. Procedural and Factual Background

         Plaintiff is the grandmother of J. J., a minor who was a five year old boy at the time of the original disability application at issue in this case, which was filed on October 9, 2012. In the application, Plaintiff alleges that J.J. is disabled because of attention deficit hyperactive disorder ("ADHD"), attention deficit disorder ("ADD"), behavioral problems, stuttering, asthma, and learning disabilities. (Tr. 53) Plaintiffs application was denied, (Tr. 62) and Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Plaintiff appeared (with counsel) at this hearing, along with J.J., on March 28, 2014. Both Plaintiff and J.J. testified concerning the nature and extent of J.J. 's disability and functional limitations. (Tr. 35-52)

         In a decision dated June 4, 2014, the ALJ found that J.J. was not disabled. (Tr. 19-29) Plaintiff appealed that decision, but the Appeals Council declined review. (Tr. 1-3) Plaintiff has therefore exhausted her administrative remedies, and the matter is properly before this Court.

         In deciding that J.J. was not disabled, the ALJ followed the three-step inquiry that applies in child disability cases, as set out in the Commissioner's regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). At step one, the ALJ found that J.J. was a preschooler at the time of his original disability application, and that J.J. was not engaged in substantial gainful activity. (Tr. 21-22) At step two, the ALJ found that J.J. has the following severe impairments: asthma; ADHD; stutter; and fine motor/visual motor skill delay. [2] (Tr. 22) At step three, the ALJ had to undertake a multi-pronged analysis. The ALJ had to first determine whether J.J.'s severe impairments met or medically equaled a listed impairment. If not, the ALJ had to determine whether J.J.'s severe impairments functionally equaled a listing. The ALJ held (and Plaintiff does not contest) that J.J.'s impairments do not meet or medically equal a listing.

         In determining whether J.J.'s severe impairments "functionally" equaled a listing, the ALJ evaluated J.J.'s functioning within the six required domains. The ALJ found that J.J. had "less than marked" limitations in all of the six domains, except for the domain of acquiring and using information, where the ALJ found that J.J. had "no limitations." (Tr. 22-28) Because J.J. did not suffer from either "extreme" limitations in one domain, or "marked" limitations in two domains, the ALJ found that there was no functional equivalence between J.J.'s impairments and a listing. (Tr. 28)

         In arriving at this conclusion, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiffs and J.J.'s credibility, and evaluated multiple pieces of medical opinion evidence. With regard to credibility, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff and J.J. were "generally credible, " but that their testimony at the hearing was "not indicative of total disability." (Tr. 22) As to the medical opinion evidence, the ALJ did not specifically assign weight to the various pieces of opinion evidence, but he clearly relied on the opinions of three state agency decision-makers who ultimately opined that J.J. was not functionally disabled. (Tr. 56-58)

         Before this Court, Plaintiff makes several arguments for reversal. First, she makes the broad and overarching argument that the ALJ did not provide "sufficient detail" in his analysis of J.J.'s functioning. Plaintiff argues that it is not clear which evidence the ALJ is pointing to in order to support his conclusions. Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's conclusions regarding three of the domains are not supported by substantial evidence. In particular, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's conclusions that J.J. suffers from "less than marked" limitations in the domains of attending and completing tasks, interacting with others, and moving and manipulating objects are not supported by substantial evidence. In response, Defendant argues that all of the ALJ's conclusions are supported by substantial evidence.

         II. Legal Framework and Standard of Review

         Children from low income families may receive Title XVI benefits if certain income and asset requirements are met, and if the child qualifies as "disabled." See 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a)(1). A child under the age of eighteen is disabled if he or she "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." See 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). As noted above, the Commissioner employs a three-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a child meets this definition. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a).

         At step one, the Commissioner determines whether the child is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If so, the claim is denied; if not, the Commissioner moves on to step two. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924(a), (b). At step two, the Commissioner determines whether the child suffers from any impairments or combination of impairments that are "severe." 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). Under these rules, an impairment is not severe if it "causes no more than minimal functional limitations." See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c). If the child suffers from an impairment or combination of impairments that qualifies as "severe, " the analysis moves to step three. At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the child has a severe impairment or combination of impairments that: (1) meets; (2) medical equals; or (3) functionally equals a listed impairment set forth in Appendix 1 of 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpart P. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d).

         To "meet" or "medically equal" a listing, a child's severe impairment must meet the severity criteria for an individual listing. See Id. But if a child has a severe impairment or combination of impairments that does not "meet" or "medically equal" any listing, the Commissioner will analyze whether the child has limitations that "functionally equal" a listing. See 20 § C.F.R. 416.926a(a).

         In considering functional equivalence, the Commissioner looks at how the child's impairments affect "broad areas of functioning" known as "domains." 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b). To equal a listing functionally, the impairments must result in "marked" [3] limitations in two domains of functioning, or an ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.