Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Kelley v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

December 29, 2016

WANDA KELLEY o/b/o B.F., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER

          S. THOMAS ANDERSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Wanda Kelley, as guardian of B.F., a minor, filed this action to obtain judicial review of Defendant Commissioner's final decision denying the application of B.F. for childhood Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was held on September 19, 2012. On October 18, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision, finding that B.F. was not entitled to benefits. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, and, thus, the decision of the ALJ became the Commissioner's final decision. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a claimant may obtain judicial review of any final decision made by the Commissioner after a hearing to which he was a party. “The court shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.”[1] The court's review is limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision[2] and whether the correct legal standards were applied.[3]

         Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”[4] It is “more than a mere scintilla of evidence, but less than a preponderance.”[5] The Commissioner, not the Court, is charged with the duty to weigh the evidence, to make credibility determinations and resolve material conflicts in the testimony, and to decide the case accordingly.[6] “[W]hen there is not substantial evidence to support one of the ALJ's factual findings and his decision therefore must be reversed, the appropriate remedy is not to award benefits. The case can be remanded under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further consideration.”[7]

         As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that the original record did not contain a transcript of the hearing held on September 12, 2012. Therefore, the Court ordered the Commissioner to file a statement clarifying whether a transcript of the hearing existed and, if it did exist, to supplement the record with a copy of that transcript. (ECF No. 19.) The Commissioner subsequently filed the supplemental transcript. (ECF No. 20.) Plaintiff then moved to either strike the supplemental transcript or for additional time to file a reply brief. (ECF No. 21.) The Court granted Plaintiff's motion to file a reply (ECF No. 22), and Plaintiff filed a reply on October 10, 2016. (ECF No. 23.) The matter is now ready for the Court's decision.

         B.F. was born on September 4, 2002, and was a special education student in elementary school at all relevant times.[8] She alleges that she became disabled beginning October 21, 2010, when she was eight years old, due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”) and mood disorder.[9] Because this is a childhood SSI claim, insured status is not in question. B.F's protective filing date is February 17, 2011.

         The Welfare Reform Act amended certain provisions of the Social Security Act relating to SSI applications by children as follows:

An individual under the age of 18 shall be considered disabled for purposes of this title 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.[10]

         The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) promulgated final rules implementing this provision. The rules establish a three step sequential evaluation for determining childhood disability such that the SSA considers (1) whether the child is working; (2) whether the child has a medically determinable severe impairment which is expected to result in death, has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months and, if so, (3) whether the impairment or combination of impairments meets, medically equals, or functionally equals the severity of any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”).[11] A child will be found disabled if she has an impairment or combination of impairments which meet, equal, or functionally equal any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1, Listing of Impairments.

         Methods that may be used to determine whether an impairment is functionally equivalent to a listing include consideration of whether the child's impairment affects “broad areas of development or functioning” set forth in the regulations.[12] For children over three years of age, the areas of development or functioning (domains) that may be addressed in considering functional equivalence are: acquiring and using information; attending and completing tasks; interacting and relating with others; moving and manipulating objects; caring for yourself; and, health and well-being.[13]

         Determination of functional equivalence to a listing entails determination as to whether a child meets the criteria for “marked” limitation in any two of the six domains, without comparison to any specific childhood listing or an “extreme” limitation in one domain.[14] A claimant has a “marked” limitation in a domain when her impairment(s) interferes “seriously” with her ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.[15] A claimant has an “extreme” limitation in a domain when her impairment(s) interferes “very seriously” with her ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.[16]

         The burden of proof at the listing level of the sequential evaluation is on the claimant. In order for a claimant to show that her impairment matches a listing, the impairment must meet all specified medical criteria.[17] “An impairment that manifests only some of those criteria, no matter how severely, does not qualify.”[18] Additionally, “[f]or a claimant to qualify for benefits by showing that [her] unlisted impairment, or combination of impairments, is ‘equivalent' to a listed impairment, [s]he must present medical findings equal in severity to all the criteria for the one most similar impairment.”[19] “A claimant cannot qualify for benefits under the ‘equivalence' step by showing that the overall functional impact of [her] unlisted impairment or combination of impairments is as severe as that of a listed impairment.”[20]

         In the present case, the ALJ determined that B.F. has severe impairments of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”) and oppositional defiance disorder (“ODD”) but does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments, and she does not functionally equal the listings. Therefore, B.F. was not disabled as defined in the Act since the date of the application. In reaching his decision, the ALJ considered all of B.F.'s medically determinably impairments, including any that were not found to be severe in all of the affected domains.

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred (1) in finding that B.F.'s mental impairments were not disabling; (2) in dismissing the examining specialist reports, teacher statements, and psychological treatment records; (3) in failing to properly evaluate and set forth good reasons for the weight attributed to the opinion evidence, including dismissing B.F.'s guardian's testimony for improper reasons; (4) in finding that B.F.'s mental impairments failed to meet or equal a listing; and (5) in denying the claim without requiring substantial evidence to support the denial of benefits. Plaintiff's arguments are not persuasive.

         As for her first argument that the ALJ should have found B.F.'s mental impairments to be disabling, Plaintiff points to the report of Dr. David Pickering, which she contends supports a finding that B.F. satisfies the criteria of Listing 112.04 (mood disorder) and 112.11 (ADHD).[21]

         The criteria for Listing 112.04 are as follows:

         112.04 Mood Disorders: Characterized by a disturbance of mood (referring to a prolonged emotion that colors the whole psychic life, generally involving either depression or elation), accompanied by a full or partial manic or depressive syndrome. The required level of severity for these disorders is met when the requirements in both A and B are satisfied.

         A. Medically documented persistence, either continuous or intermittent, of one of the following:

         1. Major depressive syndrome, characterized by at least five of the following, which must include either depressed or irritable mood or markedly diminished interest or pleasure:

a. Depressed or irritable mood; or
b. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities; or
c. Appetite or weight increase or decrease, or failure to make expected weight gains; or
d. Sleep disturbance; or
e. Psychomotor agitation or retardation; or
f. Fatigue or loss of energy; or
g. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt; or
h. Difficulty thinking or concentrating; or
i. Suicidal thoughts or acts; or
j. Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoid thinking; or

         2. Manic syndrome, characterized by elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, and at least three of the following:

a. Increased activity or psychomotor agitation; or
b. Increased talkativeness or pressure of speech; or
c. Flight of ideas or subjectively experienced racing thoughts; or
d. Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity; or
e. Decreased need for sleep; or
f. Easy distractibility; or
g. Involvement in activities that have a high potential of painful consequences which are not recognized; or
h. Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoid thinking; or

         3. Bipolar or cyclothymic syndrome with a history of episodic periods manifested by the full symptomatic picture of both manic and depressive syndromes (and currently or most recently characterized by the full or partial symptomatic picture of either or both syndromes); and

         B. For older infants and toddlers (age 1 to attainment of age 3), resulting in at least one of the appropriate age-group criteria in paragraph B1 of 112.02; or, for children (age 3 to attainment of age 18), resulting in at least two of the appropriate age-group criteria in paragraph B2 of 112.02.[22]

         Paragraph B(2) of 112.02 provides:

         2. For children (age 3 to attainment of age 18), resulting in at ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.