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Roberts v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Athens Division

January 31, 2017

JUANITA ROBERTS o/b/o J.W., Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         The Social Security Commissioner, by adoption of the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ's) determination, denied Claimant's[1] application for Supplemental Security Income, finding that he was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and Regulations. Plaintiff, filing suit on Claimant's behalf, contends that the Commissioner's decision was in error and seeks review under the relevant provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c). All administrative remedies have been exhausted. Both parties filed their written consents for all proceedings to be conducted by the United States Magistrate Judge, including the entry of a final judgment directly appealable to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(3).


         The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to a determination of whether it is supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 1000 (11th Cir. 1987) (per curiam). “Substantial evidence is something more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, this court must affirm, even if the proof preponderates against it.” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The court may not decide facts, re-weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.[2] Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005). It must, however, decide if the Commissioner applied the proper standards in reaching a decision. Harrell v. Harris, 610 F.2d 355, 359 (5th Cir. 1980) (per curiam). The court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the Commissioner's factual findings. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). However, even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, it must be affirmed if substantial evidence supports it. Id.

         In a case where a child claimant is seeking entitlement to Title XVI benefits, the following definition of disability applies:

An individual under the age of 18 shall be considered disabled for the purposes of this subchapter if that individual 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.

42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). Therefore, eligibility depends upon the presence of “marked and severe functional limitations.” A sequential evaluation process is used to determine if the child meets the statutory definition of disability. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924 et seq. Step one requires the ALJ to determine whether the child is engaging in substantial gainful activity. If so, then the claim is denied. Step two requires that the ALJ determine whether or not the child has a severe impairment or combination of impairments, defined as more than a slight abnormality and causing more than minimal functional limitations. If not, then the claim is denied.

         Step three requires the ALJ to decide whether the impairment is medically or functionally equivalent to impairments described in the listings of the regulations. To assess functional equivalence to a listed impairment, the ALJ must evaluate the level of the claimant child's ability to function in six domains: 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. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)(i)-(vi). If the child has “marked” limitations in two domains, or an “extreme” limitation in one domain, the child's impairment is the functional equivalent of the impairments listed in the Federal Regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). A limitation is “marked” when the child's impairment or impairments seriously interfere with his ability to independently initiate, sustain or complete activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). When measured by standardized testing, a marked limitation is generally indicated by scores “at least two, but less than three, standard deviations below the mean.” Id. An “extreme” limitation causes very serious interference with the child's ability to independently initiate, sustain or complete activities and is usually associated with standardized test “scores that are at least three standard deviations below the mean.” Id. § 416.926a(e)(3)(I).


         I. Whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings regarding J.W.'s limitations in the three domains of functioning.

         II. Whether the ALJ erred in evaluating certain medical and non-medical opinions.

         Administrative Proceedings

         Plaintiff Juanita Roberts filed an application for supplemental security income benefits (SSI) for her minor daughter on May 8, 2012. She alleged that Claimant became disabled on April 16, 2010. Her application was denied initially on September 27, 2012 and denied on reconsideration on January 25, 2013. Plaintiff requested an evidentiary hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on March 13, 2013 and the hearing was held on May 22, 2014. An attorney represented Plaintiff at the hearing. Tr. 18. The ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision denying the application on June 25, 2014. Tr. 15-32. Next, Plaintiff made an informal request for review of the ALJ's decision on July 10, 2014 but was denied by the Appeals Council on December 4, 2014. Tr. 12-13. 1-4. Having exhausted the administrative remedies available to her under the Social Security Act, Plaintiff brings this action seeking judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner to deny SSI benefits to her minor daughter. The case is ripe for review.

         Statement of ...

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