United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Waycross Division
LATISHA JOHNSON, on behalf of her minor child K.J.J., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
STAN BAKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
contests the decision of Administrative Law Judge Craig R.
Petersen (“the ALJ” or “ALJ
Petersen”) denying her son's claim for Supplemental
Security Income benefits. Plaintiff urges the Court to
reverse the ALJ's decision and award benefits, or, in the
alternative, to remand the case to the ALJ for a proper
determination of the evidence. Defendant asserts the
Commissioner's decision should be affirmed. For the
reasons which follow, I RECOMMEND the Court
AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision. I
also RECOMMEND that the Court
DIRECT the Clerk of Court to
CLOSE this case and enter the appropriate
judgment of dismissal.
filed an application for a Supplemental Security Income
benefits on behalf of her son on September 4, 2013, alleging
that he became disabled on July 15, 2011, due to asthma.
(Doc. 9-2, p. 40.) After the claim was denied initially and
upon reconsideration, Plaintiff filed a timely request for a
hearing. On September 18, 2014, ALJ Petersen conducted a
video hearing while presiding in Savannah, Georgia, with
Plaintiff appearing in Waycross, Georgia. (Id.) The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of
the ALJ's decision, and the decision of the ALJ became
the final decision of the Commissioner for judicial review.
(Doc. 9-2, p. 3.)
born on June 15, 2011, was four (4) years old when ALJ
Petersen issued his final decision. (Id. at p. 58;
Doc. 16, p. 2.)
The ALJ's Findings
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation
Act, Pub. L. No. 104-193, § 211, 110 Stat. 2105
(“Reconciliation Act”) amended 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3) and altered both the statutory definition of
childhood disability and the framework for determining such a
disability. The Reconciliation Act applies to children who
filed disability claims on or after August 22, 1996, as well
as to applicants whose cases were not finally adjudicated by
that date. 110 Stat. 2105, § 211(d)(1)(A)(ii). Under
this Act, a child's impairment or combination of
impairments must cause more serious impairment-related
limitations than the prior regulations required. 62 Fed. Reg.
6408, 6409 (Feb. 11, 1997).
the Reconciliation Act, a child under the age of eighteen is
considered disabled 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 . . . last for a continuous period of not less
than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i).
The regulations implementing the new standards provide the
following three-step sequential process that must be followed
by the ALJ in determining whether a child is entitled to
benefits: (1) Is the child engaged in substantial gainful
activity? If yes, the child is not disabled. If no, then: (2)
Does the child have a severe impairment? If no, then the
child is not disabled. If yes, then: (3) Does the impairment
medically meet or functionally meet a listed impairment in
Appendix 1? If yes, the child is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.924(a)-(d); see also Wilson v.
Apfel, 179 F.3d 1276, 1278 n.1 (11th Cir. 1999). In
reaching this determination, the ALJ considers information
from medical sources and non-medical sources, as well as the
child's age. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924a(a) &
child's impairment does not medically meet a listed
impairment, the ALJ must determine whether the child
“‘functionally equal[s] the listings,
'” i.e., the child's “impairment(s) must
result in a listing-level severity-‘marked'
limitations in two domains of functioning or an
‘extreme' limitation in one domain.” 20
C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). If a child has
“marked” limitations in two domains or an
“extreme” limitation in one domain, the
child's impairment is functionally equivalent to a listed
impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(d). A
“marked” limitation is one that “interferes
seriously” with a claimant's abilities in a domain,
and an “extreme” limitation is one that
“interferes very seriously.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.926a(e)(2) & (3). The domains an ALJ
uses 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 self; and (6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R.
Petersen classified Plaintiff's son as an “older
infant” as of the date his application was filed and
noted he was a preschooler on the date of the ALJ's
decision. The ALJ found Plaintiff's son had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since the application date
and had asthma as a severe impairment. (Doc. 9-2, p. 43.)
However, ALJ Petersen determined K.J.J.'s asthma did not
meet or medically equal the requisite severity of a listed
impairment, nor did his asthma functionally equal the
requisite severity of a listed impairment. (Id. at
contends the ALJ erred by improperly discounting the opinions
of K.J.J.'s treating pulmonologist and of other doctors
to find K.J.J. did not meet or equal Listings 103.03B and/or
103.03C or functionally equal either of these Listings. (Doc.
15, p. 3.)
Standard of Review
well-established that judicial review of social security
cases is limited to questions of whether the
Commissioner's factual findings are supported by
“substantial evidence, ” and whether the
Commissioner has applied appropriate legal standards.
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th
Cir. 1991); Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529
(11th Cir. 1990). A reviewing court does not “decide
facts anew, reweigh the evidence or substitute” its
judgment for that of the Commissioner. Dyer v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Even if
the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
factual findings, the court must affirm a decision supported
by substantial evidence. Id.
substantial evidence must do more than create a suspicion of
the existence of the fact to be proved. The evidence relied
upon must be relevant evidence which a reasonable mind would
find adequate to support a conclusion. Ingram v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260
(11th Cir. 2007). The substantial evidence standard requires
more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance of
evidence. Dyer, 395 F.3d at 1210. In its review, the
court must also determine whether the ALJ or Commissioner
applied appropriate legal standards. Failure to delineate and
apply the appropriate standards mandates that the findings be
vacated and remanded for clarification. Cornelius,
936 F.2d at 1146.
deference accorded the Commissioner's findings of fact
does not extend to her conclusions of law, which enjoy no
presumption of validity. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d
1233, 1236 (11th Cir. 1991) (holding that judicial review of
the Commissioner's legal conclusions are not subject to
the substantial evidence standard). If the Commissioner fails
either to apply correct legal standards or to provide the
reviewing court with the means to determine whether correct
legal standards were in fact applied, the court must reverse
the decision. Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387,