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B.H. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

June 8, 2018

B.H., a minor, by his mother Teresa Hayes, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PHILIP P. SIMON, JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Teresa Hayes, brings this action on behalf of her minor son, B.H., pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), for review of Defendant's final administrative decision denying B.H.'s application for supplemental security income (SSI). I find that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence because he did not properly consider four of the functional equivalence domains used to determine if a child is disabled.

         Background

B.H. filed for Supplemental Security Income benefits when he was 13 years old, and the initial claim was denied. [Tr. 161-66, 90-93.][1] B.H. then had a hearing before an administrative law judge who ultimately issued a decision denying benefits. [Tr. 41-64.] The ALJ found B.H. had the following severe impairments: attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), expressive language disorder, scoliosis, neck pain, patellar mal-alignment syndrome, and Ehlers-Danlos disease (which is a connective tissue disorder). [DE 47.] But the ALJ found B.H. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments, and B.H. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equaled the severity of the listings. [Id.] The ALJ found B.H. had less than marked limitation in the six functional equivalence domains.

         B.H. is home schooled and receives speech therapy through the local school system. [Tr. 191.] B.H.'s medical issues are described in a comprehensive fashion in the ALJ's opinion, and need not be recited in their entirety here. [Tr. 48-59.]

         Discussion

          In reviewing the work of the ALJ, my role is limited. It is impermissible for me to “reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, decide questions of credibility, or, in general, substitute [my] own judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Instead, my review of an ALJ's decision is limited to determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. “Evidence is substantial if a reasonable person would accept it as adequate to support the conclusion.” Id. “[T]he ALJ must identify the relevant evidence and build a ‘logical bridge' between that evidence and the ultimate determination.” Moon v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 718, 721 (7th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). Where the Commissioner's decision “lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, the case must be remanded.” Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).

         Under Supplemental Security Income rules, a child is disabled if he has a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that causes marked and severe functional limitations” that “has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.906. This assessment has a three-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). At step one, if the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity, then he is not disabled. Id. At step two, if the child does not have a severe medical impairment or combinations of impairments, then he is not disabled. Id. At step three, a child will qualify as disabled only if his impairments “meet, ” “medically equal, ” or “functionally equal” any of the listings. Id.

         The issue in this case is whether B.H. functionally equaled any of the listings. To determine if a child's impairments are “functionally equivalent” to a listing, an ALJ analyzes their severity in six “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); see Sanchez v. Barnhart, 467 F.3d 1081, 1082 (7th Cir. 2006) (rationalizing since children do not generally have work history, the structure of the disability program for them differs from that for adults, and focuses on the functioning of the child in specific areas of life activity).

         For a child to functionally equal a listing, the ALJ must find an “extreme” limitation in one domain or a “marked” limitation in two domains. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a), (e)(2)(i). An “extreme” limitation occurs when the impairment interferes very seriously with the child's ability to independently initiate, sustain or complete activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(3)(i). A “marked” limitation is one which interferes seriously with the child's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. Id. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i).

         B.H. argues that the ALJ did not set forth a supported rationale for finding a less than marked limitation in the domains of: “acquiring and using information, ” “attending and completing tasks, ” “moving about and manipulating objects, ” and “health and physical well-being.” [DE 16 at 1-5.]

         Acquiring and Using Information

         For the domain of acquiring and using information, the ALJ found: “The claimant has less than marked limitation in acquiring and using information. Considering the plethora of intelligence testing in the evidence and detailed in this determination, the claimant certainly has no more tha[n] a less than marked limitation in his ability to acquire and use information.” [Tr. 54 (emphasis in original).]

         The “acquiring and using of information” domain measures more than just intelligence, or IQ - it refers to how well a child acquires or learns information and how well he uses the information he has learned. Hopggod ex rel. L.G. v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 696, 699 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(g)). As Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 09-3p makes clear, the domain of acquiring and using information “considers more than just assessments of cognitive ability as measured by intelligence tests, academic achievement instruments, or grades in school.” SSR 09-3P, 2009 WL 396025 (Feb. 17, 2009). Moreover, the regulations are clear that an ALJ may not rely on any single test score when deciding if an impairment is marked or ...


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