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Dubose v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 30, 2018

Susie Mae Dubose, on behalf of D.G., Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PAIGE J. GOSSETT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This social security matter is before the court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to Local Civil Rule 83.VII.02 (D.S.C.). The plaintiff, Susie Mae Dubose, brought this action on behalf of her minor grandchild pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the defendant, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying her minor grandchild's claims for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Having carefully considered the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be remanded for further consideration as explained below.

         SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY FOR MINORS[1]

         An individual under the age of eighteen is considered disabled under the Social Security Act if that child “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); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.906. To determine whether a child is disabled, the regulations require the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to consider, in sequence:

(1) whether the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity;
(2) whether the child has a “severe” impairment; and
(3) whether the child has an impairment that meets, medically equals, or functionally equals the requirements of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“the Listings”), and is thus presumptively disabled.

20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b)-(d).

         To assess functional equivalence, the Commissioner will consider the child's level of function in six domains, which “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). These domains 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's impairments or combination of impairments functionally equal the listings when they result either in “marked” limitations in two domains or an “extreme” limitation in one domain. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). Generally, the Commissioner will find that a child has a “marked” limitation in a domain when the child's impairment or combination of impairments interferes seriously with the child's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). “ ‘Marked' limitation also means a limitation that is ‘more than moderate' but ‘less than extreme,' ” and may arise when several activities are limited, or when only one is limited. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). Generally, the Commissioner will find that the child has an “extreme” limitation in a domain when the child's impairment or combination of impairments interferes very seriously with the child's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(3)(i). “ ‘Extreme' limitation also means a limitation that is ‘more than marked,' ” and may arise when several activities are limited or when one is limited. Id. Although “extreme” limitation is the rating given to the worst limitations, it does not necessarily mean a total lack or loss of ability to function. Id.

         ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         In June 2013, Dubose applied for SSI on behalf of her minor grandson, D.G. Dubose's application was denied initially and on reconsideration and she requested a hearing before an ALJ. A video hearing was held on March 22, 2016 at which D.G., as well as Dubose, appeared and testified. Dubose was represented at the hearing by Jason A. Stegner, Esquire. The ALJ issued a decision on May 10, 2016 finding that the minor child had not been disabled since the application was filed on June 20, 2013. (Tr. 17-30.)

         D.G. was born in 2000 and was twelve years old on June 20, 2013, the date the SSI application was filed on his behalf. (Tr. 15.) In applying the three-step sequential process, the ALJ found that D.G. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 20, 2013-the application date. The ALJ also determined that D.G.'s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a learning disability were severe impairments. However, the ALJ found that D.G. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”), or that functionally equaled the severity of the listings. Therefore, the ALJ found that D.G. had not been disabled since June 20, 2013, the date the application was filed.

         Dubose submitted additional evidence to the Appeals Council, which denied Dubose's request for review on April 4, 2017, making the decision of the ALJ the final action of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5.) This action followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the court may review the Commissioner's denial of benefits. However, this review is limited to considering whether the Commissioner's findings “are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standard.” Craig v. Chater,76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Coffman v. Bowen,829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). Thus, the court may review only whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied. See Brown v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin.,873 F.3d 251, 267 (4th Cir. 2017); Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982 (4th Cir. 1980). “Substantial evidence” means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Craig, 76 F.3d at 589; see also Pearson v. Colvin,810 F.3d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015). In reviewing the evidence, the court may not “undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of ...


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