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Conway v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 27, 2017

HEAVEN M. CONWAY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Debra McVicker Lynch United States Magistrate Judge Southern District of Indiana

         Plaintiff Heaven M. Conway seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her May 2012 application for Supplemental Security Income Children's Disability Benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. At the time of the plaintiff's application for disability benefits, she was a teenager and her mother filed the application on her behalf for child's SSI benefits. Ms. Conway is herself prosecuting her complaint for judicial review; she turned 18 in 2015 before the decision denying benefits became final.

         The application for benefits alleged that she has been disabled since birth in 1997. Acting for the Commissioner following a hearing held December 16, 2014, administrative law judge Albert J. Velasquez issued a decision on February 18, 2015, that Ms. Conway is not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on June 8, 2016, rendering it the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Ms. Conway timely filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the Commissioner's decision.

         Ms. Conway contends that the decision should be reversed and remanded because the ALJ's decision that no listing was met was perfunctory and did not mention any listing that he had considered. She asserts that the elements of listing 112.05D (intellectual disability) are met by the record evidence and that the ALJ made findings that would support each element.

         The court now turns to the legal framework for analyzing child disability claims and the court's standard of review. It will then address Ms. Conway's assertions of error.

         Standard for Proving Disability

         A child under the age of 18 is eligible for disability benefits under the SSI program if she 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). The SSA has implemented this statutory standard by, in part, prescribing a three-step sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. Step one asks if the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity (i.e., is earning money at a certain level); if she is, then she is not disabled. § 416.924(b). Step two asks whether the child's impairments, singly or in combination, are severe; if they are not, then she is not disabled. § 416.924(c). The third step is an analysis of whether the child's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or equal the criteria of any of the conditions in the Part B Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, Part B. If they do and the duration requirement is satisfied, then the child is deemed disabled. §416.924(d).

         The Part B Listing of Impairments is a compilation of medical conditions divided into fourteen major body systems that the SSA has adjudged are disabling in children. 20 C.F.R. § 416.925. In general, each listed condition is defined by two sets of criteria: (1) diagnostic findings that substantiate the existence of a listed condition and (2) 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 one of three ways: by meeting all the listed criteria, 20 C.F.R. § 416.925(c)(3); by medically equaling the criteria, 20 C.F.R. § 416.926 (i.e., the impairments do not match the listed criteria for a listed condition but they are of “equal medical significance” to those criteria or condition); or by functionally equaling the criteria, 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a).

         Functional equivalence involves an analysis of six “domains” of functioning and determination of whether and the extent to which a child's impairments limit her functioning in those domains. The domains are:

• (1) acquiring and using information,
• (2) attending to and completing tasks,
• (3) interacting and relating with others,
• (4) moving about and manipulating ...

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