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Porter v. Berryhill

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

July 13, 2018

AMBER PORTER, on behalf of K.F., a minor Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, [1]Defendant.

          ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Amber Porter on behalf of K.F., [2] a minor, appeals the denial of K.F.'s application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits. Ms. Porter applied for benefits on K.F's behalf on August 27, 2012. [Filing No. 14-7 at 2.] The claim was initially denied on October 22, 2012, [Filing No. 14-4 at 6], and upon reconsideration on November 2, 2012, [Filing No. 14-4 at 18]. Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Mark Ziercher held a hearing on January 17, 2014, and issued a decision on October 28, 2014, concluding that K.F. was not disabled. [Filing No. 14-4 at 20.] Ms. Porter sought review by the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council, [Filing No. 14-5 at 49], which granted review on November 17, 2015, [Filing No. 14-4 at 42], and remanded the case for further proceedings, [Filing No. 14-4 at 44]. On March 21, 2016, ALJ John Metz held a supplemental hearing at which Ms. Porter and Dr. Belt, an impartial medical expert, testified. [Filing No. 14-2 at 11.] ALJ Metz denied the claim on May 18, 2016, [Filing No. 14-2 at 2], and the Appeals Council denied review on July 12, 2017, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) for the purposes of this review, [Filing No. 14-2 at 2]. Ms. Porter filed this action on behalf of K.F. pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c), requesting that the Court review the ALJ's denial of benefits. [Filing No. 1.]

         I.

         Applicable Standard of Review

         “Social security disability benefits are designed for disabled workers, but low-income parents or guardians may obtain them on behalf of disabled children as well.” Keys v. Barnhart, 347 F.3d 990, 991 (7th Cir. 2003). For a child to be considered disabled, it must be shown that the child “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).

[S]ince disabled children generally do not have a work history, the structure of the disability program for them is necessarily different from that for adults, except in cases in which the child has a ‘listed impairment,' that is, an impairment that would entitle the adult to disability benefits without any further inquiry into his ability to perform his past work or some other work; the child is treated the same in such a case.

Keys, 347 F.3d at 991-92 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d)). If the child is “not so seriously disabled as is implied by being found to have a listed impairment, then it must be determined whether [the child] is nevertheless severely limited in functioning in specified areas of life activity such as concentration and communication.” Id. at 992.

         To determine whether a child is disabled, the ALJ considers all relevant evidence and the combined effect of any impairments on the child's overall health and functioning. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). The regulations set forth a three-step process for evaluating child disability claims. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a).

         At Step One, if the child is doing substantial gainful activity, as defined by the regulations, the child is not disabled and the evaluation stops. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)-(b). If the child is not doing substantial gainful activity, the evaluation proceeds to Step Two. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a).

         At Step Two, the ALJ considers the child's physical or mental impairments to see if the child has an impairment or combination of impairments that are severe. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). If the impairment or impairments are not severe, the child is not disabled and the evaluation stops. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). If the impairment or impairments are severe, the evaluation proceeds to Step Three. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a).

         At Step Three, the ALJ considers whether the child has an impairment or impairments that meets, medically equals, or functionally equals a listing. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). If the child has such an impairment and it meets the duration requirement, the child is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). If the child does not have such an impairment, or if it does not meet the duration requirement, the child is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a).

         A child's impairments will functionally equal a listing if they result in either a “marked” limitation in at least two of six enumerated domains of functioning or an “extreme” limitation in at least one of the domains. Buckhanon ex rel. J.H. v. Astrue, 368 Fed.Appx. 674, 679 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a). The six domains are as follows: (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 yourself; and (6) health and physical well- being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a. A “marked” limitation interferes “seriously” with a child's ability to initiate, sustain, or complete activities in the domain, and an “extreme” limitation interferes “very seriously.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2).

         This Court's role in reviewing a disability decision is limited to ensuring that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings. Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. at 668 (quotation omitted). 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). However, the “ALJ's decision must be based upon consideration of all the relevant evidence.” Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994). Moreover, “[a]n ALJ may not select and discuss only that evidence that favors [his] ultimate conclusion, but must articulate, at some minimum level, [his] analysis of the evidence to allow the [Court] to trace the path of [his] reasoning.” Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 307 (7th Cir. 1995).

         If the ALJ committed no legal error and substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the Court must affirm the denial of benefits. Otherwise, the Court must generally remand the matter back to the SSA for further consideration; only under rare circumstances can the Court actually order an award of benefits. See Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 355 (7th Cir. 2005).

         II.

         Background

         K.F. was seven years old when Ms. Porter filed an application for SSI benefits on his behalf in 2012. [Filing No. 14-4 at 2.] The application alleges a disability onset date of June 9, 2005, due to behavioral problems, special education, and Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (“ADHD”). [Filing No. 14-4 at 2.][3]

         Using the sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA, the ALJ issued a decision on May 18, 2016, finding as follows:

• At Step One, the ALJ concluded that K.F. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 16, 2012. [Filing No. 14-2 at 14.]
• At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that K.F. had the severe impairments of ADHD, autism disorder, and speech ...

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