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Burrage v. Berryhill

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

March 28, 2019

LATOYA BURRAGE obo J.S., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff's application for supplemental security income. Because the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence from the record, I will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff's mother protectively filed for supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. The application was filed on Plaintiff's behalf on October 30, 2014 and alleges a disability onset date of September 16, 2014. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application on March 3, 2015. Tr., ECF No. 13, at 70.

         Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, which took place on January 11, 2017. Tr. at 10. On March 28, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. On December 2, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. at 1. The ALJ's decision is thus the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c)(3).

         II. Medical Records and Other Evidence Before the ALJ

         With respect to the medical records and other evidence of record, I adopt Plaintiff's recitation of facts set forth in Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts (ECF Doc. No. 18-1) insofar as they are admitted by the Commissioner (ECF Doc. No. 25-1). I also adopt the additional facts set forth in the Commissioner's Statement of Additional Material Facts (ECF Doc. No. 25-1), because Plaintiff does not refute them. Together, these statements provide a fair and accurate description of the relevant record before me. I will discuss additional facts as needed to address the parties' arguments.

         III. Legal Standards

         To be entitled to disability benefits, a claimant under the age of 18 must “have 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 Commissioner must undergo a three-step process when evaluating whether a child is entitled to SSI benefits. First, the Commissioner must determine whether the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity. If not, the Commissioner must then determine whether the child's impairment, or combination of impairments, is severe. Finally, if the child's impairment(s) is severe, the Commissioner must determine whether it meets, medically equals, or functionally equals the severity of an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Part 404 of the Regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a); Garrett ex rel. Moore v. Barnhart, 366 F.3d 643, 647 (8th Cir. 2004). If the impairment(s) meets or medically equals a Listing, the child is disabled. Garrett, 366 F.3d at 647. If a child's impairment does not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the Commissioner will assess all functional limitations caused by the child's impairment to determine whether the impairment functionally equals the listings. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a. If this analysis shows the child not to have an impairment which is functionally equal in severity to a listed impairment, the ALJ must find the child not disabled. Oberts o/b/o Oberts v. Halter, 134 F.Supp.2d 1074, 1082 (E.D. Mo. 2001).

         To functionally equal a listed impairment, the child's condition must result in an “extreme” limitation in one domain of functioning or “marked” limitations in two domains. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). The domains are “broad areas of functioning intended to capture all of what a child can or cannot do.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1). The six domains used by the Commissioner in making this determination are: 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 Oneself; and 6) Health and Physical Well-Being. Id.

         A child-claimant has a “marked” limitation in a domain when his impairment(s) interferes seriously with his ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. His day-to-day functioning may be seriously limited when his impairment(s) limits only one activity or when the interactive and cumulative effects of his impairment(s) limit several activities. “Marked” limitation also means a limitation that is “more than moderate” but “less than extreme.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). A child has an “extreme” limitation when the impairment “interferes very seriously with [the child's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(3). In determining whether a child-claimant's functioning may be marked or extreme, the Commissioner is to review all the evidence of record and “compare [the child's] functioning to the typical functioning of children [the child's] age who do not have impairments.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(f)(1); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b) (in determining child-claimant's functioning, Commissioner looks “at how appropriately, effectively and independently [the child] perform[s] [his] activities compared to the performance of other children [the child's] age who do not have impairments.”); 20 C.F.R. § 416.924a(b)(5).

         In reviewing the ALJ's denial of Social Security disability benefits, my role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings comply with the relevant legal requirements and are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Pate-Fires, 564 F.3d at 942. “Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion.” Id. In determining whether the evidence is substantial, I must consider evidence that both supports and detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Id. As long as substantial evidence supports the decision, I may not reverse it merely because substantial evidence exists in the record that would support a contrary outcome. See Johnson v. Astrue, 628 F.3d 991, 992 (8th Cir. 2011). I must “defer heavily to the findings and conclusions of the Social Security Administration.” Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010) (internal citation omitted).

         IV. ...

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