United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
R. J. a minor by her mother RITA R. TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant.
ORDER OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS TO THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
SARAH EVANS BARKER, District Judge.
This is an action for judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff R.J., a minor, child disability benefits under the Social Security Act. The Defendant Commissioner of Social Security denied her application in September 2008. R. J. sued for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision and, in July 2009, this Court reversed the denial and remanded her application to the Commissioner for reevaluation. R. J. v. Astrue, No. 1:08-cv-1416-DFH-TAB, Entry [doc. 26], 2009 WL 2413924 (S.D. Ind., July 24, 2009) ("Entry"). On remand, after a new hearing, the Commissioner again denied R. J.'s application. R.J. again sought judicial review and the undersigned referred this case to Magistrate Judge LaRue who issued a Report and Recommendation that the Commissioner's decision be upheld. This cause is now before the Court on Plaintiff's Objections to the Recommended Decision by the Magistrate Judge. For the reasons detailed herein, we adopt the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and affirm the Commissioner's decision.
I. Applicable Law and Standard of Review
A child under the age of eighteen is eligible for SSI benefits if she has a medically determinable mental or physical impairment that causes 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 twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). A physical or mental impairment is one that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities that are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. Id . § 1382c(a)(3)(D). In determining whether impairments are disabling, the combined effect of all a child's impairments must be considered, without regard to whether any single impairment alone is of disabling severity. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(G).
By regulation, the Social Security Administration ("SSA") has determined that satisfaction of one of the Listings of Impairments for minors, 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appendix 1, Part B, fulfills the statutory requirement that a child's impairment or combination of impairments "results in marked and severe functional limitations." The Listing of Impairments, Part B, is a compilation of medical conditions, divided into fourteen major body systems, that the SSA has pre-determined are disabling in children. 20 C.F.R. § 416.925. In general, each listed condition is defined by two sets of criteria: first, diagnostic findings that substantiate the existence of a listed condition and, second, sets of related functional limitations that substantiate the condition's disabling severity. Id . A child's impairment or group of impairments can satisfy a listed condition in three ways: by meeting all of the listed criteria for the condition, 20 C.F.R. § 416.925(c)(3); by medically equaling the criteria, id. § 416.925(c)(5); or by functionally equaling the criteria, id. § 416.926a(a).
A child's impairment meets a listed condition only when it satisfies all of the criteria of the Listing. 20 C.F.R. § 416.925(c)(3) and (d). A child's impairment medically equals a listed condition when it is at least equal in severity and duration to the criteria of a listed condition. Id . § 416.926(a). Medical equivalence will be found in one of three ways: (1) the child's impairment, though listed, is lacking one or more of the medical or severity criteria, but other findings related to the impairment are of at least equal medical significance to the listed criteria, id. § 416.926(b)(1); (2) the child's impairment is not a listed condition but the impairment's medical and severity findings are of at least equal medical significance to a closely analogous listed condition, id. § 416.926(b)(2); or (3) the child has a combination of impairments, no one of which equals a listed condition, but the combined impairments' medical and severity findings are of at least equal medical significance to a listed condition, id. § 416.926(b)(3).
A child's impairment or combination of impairments will functionally equal a listed condition when it is of listing-level severity, which the SSA has defined to mean that the child's impairments result in a "marked" limitation in two domains of functioning or an "extreme" limitation in one domain. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). The six domains of functioning are (1) acquiring and using information, (2) attending to 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, id. § 416.926a(b)(1). The SSA has defined constituent activities within each domain and their normal levels of performance at different age groups. Id . § 416.926a(g)-(l). In general, a "marked" limitation exists when a child's impairment or combination of impairments "interferes seriously with [her] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities" within a particular domain. It is a limitation that is "more than moderate" but "less than extreme, " and is the level of functioning that is expected with scores that are more than two, but less than three, standard deviations below the mean on standardized tests. Id . § 416.926a(e)(2). An "extreme" limitation is one that interferes "very seriously" with a child's ability to perform activities within a domain. It is "more than marked, " and is the level of functioning that is expected with scores at least three standard deviations below the mean on standardized testing. Id . § 416.926a(e)(3).
The SSA has prescribed a three-step sequential process for evaluating child disability claims. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. If disability eligibility can be determined at any step in the sequence, an application will not be reviewed further. Id . § 416.924(a). At the first step, if the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity, i.e., is earning money, then she is not disabled. Id . § 417.924(b). At the second step, if the child's impairments, or combination of impairments, are not severe, then she is not disabled. A severe impairment or combination of impairments is one that causes "more than minimal functional limitations." Id . § 416.924(c). At the third step, the child's impairments, either singly or in combination, must satisfy the criteria of at least one of the conditions included in Part B of the Listings of Impairments. Id . § 416.924(d). The applicant bears the burden of proof at each step of the process. If a child's impairments pass all three steps, and satisfies the duration requirement, then she is determined to be disabled.
We review the Commissioner's denial of benefits to determine whether it was supported by substantial evidence or is the result of an error of law. Rice v. Barnhart , 384 F.3d 363, 368-369 (7th Cir. 2004); Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart , 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). "Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Dixon v. Massanari , 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). In our review of the ALJ's decision, we will not "reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute [our] own judgment for that of the Commissioner." Lopez , 336 F.3d at 539. However, the ALJ's decision must be based upon consideration of "all the relevant evidence, " without ignoring probative factors. Herron v. Shalala , 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994). In other words, the ALJ must "build an accurate and logical bridge" from the evidence in the record to his or her final conclusion. Dixon , 270 F.3d at 1176. We confine the scope of our review to the rationale offered by the ALJ. See SEC v. Chenery Corp. , 318 U.S. 80, 93-95 (1943); Tumminaro v. Astrue , 671 F.3d 629, 632 (7th Cir. 2011).
When a party raises specific objections to elements of a Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation, the district court reviews those elements de novo, determining for itself whether the Commissioner's decision regarding those issues is supported by substantial evidence or was the result of an error of law. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 72(b). The district court "makes the ultimate decision to adopt, reject, or modify" the report and recommendation, and it need not accept any portion as binding; the court may, however, defer to those conclusions of the report and recommendation to which timely objections have not been raised by a party. See Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs., Inc. , 577 F.3d 752, 759-761 (7th Cir. 2009).
II. The ALJ's Decision
At Step One of the three-step sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since her application date. At Step Two, he found that she had the severe impairments of depression and personality disorder (oppositional defiant disorder). He additionally found that Plaintiff's previous diagnoses of ADHD and borderline intellectual functioning were incorrect based on the testimony of medical expert Georgia Ann Pitcher and other evidence obtained at the hearing level. R. at 746.
At Step Three the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet, medically equal, or functionally equal any of the listed impairments and, therefore, is not disabled. He expressly considered Listings 112.04 (Mood Disorders) and 112.8 (Personality Disorders) and determined that Plaintiff's impairments do not result in marked limitations in two of the appropriate ...