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Stokes v. Berryhill

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

March 25, 2019

NATASSIA STOKES o/b/o J.L.S., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          ABBIE CRITES-LEONI, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Natassia Stokes brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's denial of her application on behalf of her minor son, J.L.S. (“Plaintiff”), for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff's attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”) and oppositional defiant disorder (“ODD”) were severe but did not meet or medically equal an impairment contained in a listing pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a. Consequently, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled.

         This matter is pending before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, with consent of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). A summary of the entire record is presented in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

         I. Procedural History

         Ms. Brown protectively filed an application for Child's SSI on behalf of Plaintiff on December 10, 2013. (Tr. 238-43.) She stated that Plaintiff was born in 2009, and alleged that he became disabled beginning May 1, 2012, due to ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder (“OCD”) “odd and violent behavior, ” and seizures. (Tr. 256.) Plaintiff's claim was denied initially. (Tr. 128-31.) Following an administrative hearing, Plaintiff's claim was denied in a written opinion by an ALJ, dated November 10, 2015. (Tr. 102-22.) On September 13, 2016, after receiving additional evidence, the Appeals Council remanded the matter back to the ALJ for further development and a new decision. (Tr. 123-27.) On July 20, 2017, following a second hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Act. (Tr. 17-37.) Plaintiff then filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council, which was denied on November 7, 2017. (Tr. 1-6.) Thus, the July 20, 2017 decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         In the instant action, Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred by improperly “fail[ing] to rely on the treating physician's opinion regarding functional equivalence.” (Doc. 26 at 9.)

         II. The ALJ's Determination

         The ALJ stated that Plaintiff was born on November 22, 2009, and was a preschooler on the date his application was filed, and is currently a school-age child. (Tr. 23.) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 3, 2014, the application date. Id. The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: ADHD and ODD. Id. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924, 416.925 and 416.926). Id.

         The ALJ further found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equals the severity of the listings. (Tr. 24.) Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following limitations: less than marked limitation in his ability to acquire and use information; marked limitation in his ability to attend and complete tasks; less than marked limitation in his ability to interact and relate with others; no limitation in his ability to move about and manipulate objects; less than marked limitation in his ability to care for himself; and no limitation in his health or physical well-being. (Tr. 31-37.) Finally, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act, since January 3, 2014, the date the application was filed. Id.

         III. Applicable Law

         III.A. Standard of Review

         The decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 724 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but enough that a reasonable person would find it adequate to support the conclusion. Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). This “substantial evidence test, ” however, is “more than a mere search of the record for evidence supporting the Commissioner's findings.” Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Substantial evidence on the record as a whole . . . requires a more scrutinizing analysis.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         The Court must also consider any evidence which fairly detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Coleman, 498 F.3d at 770; Warburton v. Apfel, 188 F.3d 1047, 1050 (8th Cir. 1999). However, even though two inconsistent conclusions may be drawn from the evidence, the Commissioner's findings may still be supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000)). “[I]f there is substantial evidence on the record as a whole, we must affirm the administrative decision, even if the record could also have supported an opposite decision.” Weikert v. Sullivan, 977 F.2d 1249, 1252 (8th Cir. 1992) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). See also Jones ex rel. Morris v. Barnhart, 315 F.3d 974, 977 (8th Cir. 2003).

         III.B. ...


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