United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
a social security appeal on behalf of a child, referred to by
her initials, J.S.B. The child's mother alleges that the
child is disabled by a disorder of her right arm caused by
trauma during birth. An administrative law judge agreed that
J.S.B. had severe impairments but found that she did not
qualify as disabled. J.S.B.'s mother seeks review of that
decision. As explained below, the Court concludes that the
decision was supported by substantial evidence and was
procedurally sound, so the Court affirms the
was born in January 2014. She experienced a trauma to her
right shoulder during the delivery due to shoulder dystocia.
After the delivery, she would move her right wrist and
forearm but was not moving her right shoulder. Routine
doctors' visits over the ensuing months reflected that
J.S.B. was developing appropriately, but that she was still
experiencing problems with her right shoulder. J.S.B. was
diagnosed with Erb's Palsy and was referred for physical
therapy. J.S.B.'s mother completed a function report in
August 2018, indicating that J.S.B. was functioning like a
normal seven-month-old except for her right arm, which caused
difficulty crawling, rolling over, and holding a bottle.
Office reports from around the same time indicated that
J.S.B. would hold her bottle with her left hand, using her
right hand only for support, and that she would move her
right hand by bending at the elbow but not the shoulder. (R.
232-33, 282). A consultative examination the following month
indicated that J.S.B. had motor delays but was otherwise
average in her overall development.
therapy records reflected that J.S.B. generally made progress
with her right arm but still had decreased use of her
shoulder. She was also fitted with orthotic braces. A
function report completed in February 2016 indicated that
J.S.B.'s use of her right hand and arm had improved, and
that she was willingly using her right hand to manipulate
objects. It also noted that J.S.B. could drink from an open
cup, use utensils, brush her teeth, and wash her hands. (R.
mother had applied for disability benefits on her behalf in
July 2014. Agency consultants thus reviewed her records in
September and October 2014 but concluded that J.S.B. was not
disabled. In particular, they concluded that she had
“marked” limitations in the domain of Moving
About and Manipulation of Objects, but no limitations in the
other five domains. (R. 60-61). On reconsideration, another
set of consultants reached the same conclusions, except that
they concluded she had “less than marked”
limitations in the domain of Health and Physical Well-Being.
J.S.B.'s mother thus requested a hearing, which took
place in December 2016. J.S.B.'s mother attended the
hearing and waived her right to counsel after discussing her
rights with the ALJ.
the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision finding that J.S.B.
did not qualify as disabled. He found that she had severe
impairments of Erb's Palsy and a motor skills
developmental delay, but that she did not meet or medically
equal a listing. The ALJ thus considered her functioning in
the six domains to determine if she functionally equaled a
listing. He found that J.S.B. had marked limitations in the
domain of Moving About and Manipulation of Objects;
less-than-marked limitations in the domain of Health and
Physical Well-Being; and no limitations in the remaining
domains. Because J.S.B. did not have marked limitations in at
least two domains, she did not qualify as disabled, so the
ALJ denied her claim. The Appeals Council denied review, so
J.S.B.'s mother filed this action seeking review of the
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the Appeals Council denied review, the Court evaluates the
ALJ's decision as the final word of the Commissioner of
Social Security. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702,
707 (7th Cir. 2013). This Court will affirm the
Commissioner's findings of fact and denial of disability
benefits if they are supported by substantial evidence.
Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008).
Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). This evidence must be “more
than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.”
Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir.
2007). Thus, even if “reasonable minds could
differ” about the disability status of the claimant,
the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision as long
as it is adequately supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529
F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material
conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of
the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400.
In this substantial-evidence determination, the Court
considers the entire administrative record but does not
reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of
credibility, or substitute the Court's own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003).
Nevertheless, the Court conducts a “critical review of
the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner's
decision. Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence
favoring the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the
claim's rejection and may not ignore an entire line of
evidence that is contrary to his or her findings.
Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir.
2001). Consequently, an ALJ's decision cannot stand if it
lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the
issues. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. Ultimately, while
the ALJ is not required to address every piece of evidence or
testimony presented, the ALJ must provide a “logical
bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions.
Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009).
STANDARD FOR DISABILITY
Supplemental Security Income rules, a child is disabled if he
has a “medically determinable physical or mental
impairment, which results in marked and severe functional
limitations” that “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). This
assessment requires a three-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. §
416.924(a); L.D.R. v. Berryhill, 920 F.3d 1146, 1150
(7th Cir. 2019); Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805,
809-10 (7th Cir. 2011). At step one, if the child is engaged
in substantial gainful activity, then she is not disabled.
Id. At step two, if the child does not have a severe
medical impairment or combination of impairments, then she is
not disabled. Id. At step three, a child will
qualify as disabled only if her impairments “meet,
” “medically equal, ” or
“functionally equal” any of the listings
contained in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.
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 Murphy v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 630,
634 (7th Cir. 2007); Sanchez v. Barnhart, 467 F.3d
1081, 1082 (7th Cir. 2006) (since children do not generally
have work history, the structure of the disability program
for them necessarily differs from that for adults, and
focuses on the functioning of the child in specified areas of
life activity). For a child to functionally equal a listing,
the ALJ must find an “extreme” limitation in one
domain or “marked” limitations in two domains. 20
C.F.R. § 416.926a(a), (e)(2)(i).
“marked” limitation is one that “interferes
seriously with [a claimant's] ability to independently
initiate, sustain, or complete activities.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.926a(e)(2)(i). A marked limitation represents
functioning between two and three standard deviations below
the mean. A limitation is “extreme” if it
“interferes very seriously with [a claimant's]
ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete