United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
S. N. K., a minor by her mother, SHANIKA N. KENNEDY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW
WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.
Plaintiff's mother, Shanika N. Kennedy, requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying her application on behalf of her minor daughter, S.N.K., for Supplemental Social Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). The Court, having reviewed the record and the briefs of the parties, now rules as follows.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Kennedy filed an application for SSI on April 13, 2011, alleging that S.N.K. became disabled on April 17, 2007, due to asthma (and later on, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD")). The application was initially denied on July 12, 2011, and again upon reconsideration on September 21, 2011. Thereafter, S.N.K.'s mother requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The hearing was held on August 17, 2012, via video conference before ALJ Angela Miranda. Kennedy, S.N.K., and counsel appeared in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the ALJ presided over the hearing from Falls Church, Virginia. During the hearing, James A. Belt, M.D., testified as a medical expert. On March 29, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision denying Kennedy's application for benefits. The Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's decision and denied a request for review on April 1, 2014. This action for judicial review ensued.
II. EVIDENCE OF RECORD
The evidence of record is well documented in the ALJ's decision and need not be recited here. Facts relevant to Kennedy's arguments are, however, noted in the discussion section below.
III. APPLICABLE STANDARD
To be eligible for SSI, a claimant must meet the requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 423. Pursuant to that statute, "disability" means the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The standard is a stringent one. The Act does not contemplate degrees of disability or allow for an award based on partial disability. See Stephens v. Heckler, 766 F.2d 284, 285 (7th Cir. 1985).
In determining whether a claimant under the age of eighteen is disabled, the Commissioner employs a three-step sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). At step one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled, despite her medical condition. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b). At step two, if the claimant does not have a "severe" impairment or a combination of impairments that is "severe, " she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c). At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets, medically equals, or functionally equals any impairment that appears in the Listing of Impairments, codified at 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d). If the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets, medically equals, or functionally equals the listings, and meets the twelve-month duration requirement, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.906.
In determining whether an impairment functionally equals the listings, the ALJ must examine the following 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 oneself; and (6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)(i)-(vi). The claimant's impairment or combination of impairments must result in "marked" limitations in two or more domains or an "extreme" limitation in one domain. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). A "marked" limitation is one that seriously interferes with the claimant's ability to sustain and complete activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). An "extreme" limitation is one that very seriously interferes with the claimant's ability to sustain and complete activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924a(e)(3)(i).
On review, the ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by this Court "so long as substantial evidence supports them and no error of law occurred." Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). "Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, " id., and the Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). The ALJ "need not evaluate in writing every piece of testimony and evidence submitted." Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir. 1993). Rather, the ALJ is required to articulate only a minimal, but legitimate, justification for her acceptance or rejection of specific evidence of disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). In order to be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate her analysis of the evidence in her decision; while she "is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, " she must "provide some glimpse into her reasoning... [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion." Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1177.
IV. THE ALJ'S DECISION
At step one, the ALJ found that S.N.K. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 13, 2011, the application date. At step two, the ALJ concluded that S.N.K. had the following severe impairments: Premature birth with asthma; obstructive sleep apnea; and ADHD. At step three, the ALJ determined that S.N.K. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met, medically equaled, or functionally equaled a listed ...