United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
a social security appeal on behalf of a child, referred to
herein as “Plaintiff.”Plaintiff's mother
alleges that he is disabled by a physical disorder of his
lower extremities and by a severe speech and language
impairment. An administrative law judge agreed that Plaintiff
had severe impairments but found that he did not qualify as
disabled. Plaintiff's mother now seeks review of that
decision. For the reasons contained herein, the Court will
remand this matter to the Commissioner.
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).
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); 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 he is not disabled.
Id. At step two, if the child does not have a severe
medical impairment or combination 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
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 a “marked” limitation 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
activities.” Id. § 416.926a(e)(3)(i). It
represents functioning at least three standard deviations
from the mean.
at step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's speech
and language impairment and developmental delay were severe
impairments within the meaning of the regulations. Proceeding
to step three, she found that these impairments did not
medically equal any of the listings. The ALJ then assessed
whether, under the six domains, Plaintiff's condition
functionally equaled any listed impairment. The ALJ
determined that Plaintiff had a “less than
marked” limitation in the domains of acquiring and
using information, moving about and manipulating objects, and
health and physical well-being. (R. 26-27, 29-31). The ALJ
also found “no limitation” in the domains of
attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating with
others, and ability to care for oneself. (R. 27-31).
now challenges the ALJ's findings on several grounds. The
Court, however, need not address all of Plaintiff's
arguments because the ALJ committed error at step three by
ignoring an entire line of evidence that contradicts her
analysis of Plaintiff's restrictions in the domains of
moving about and manipulating objects and health and physical
well-being. This requires remand.
Evidence of Existing Limitations
of her step three analysis, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's
restrictions in the six domains listed above. Plaintiff now
contends that the ALJ impermissibly omitted consideration of
evidence that undermines the bases for her conclusions in the
domains of moving about and manipulating objects and health
and physical well-being. In particular, Plaintiff criticizes
the ALJ's observation that he experienced no problems
with ambulation after 2015, noting that Plaintiff's
mother provided contradicting testimony that, as of mid-2017,
Plaintiff still could not walk and run without consistently
falling due to an unresolved impairment in his foot. [DE 19
at 20-21] The ALJ, however, overlooked this line of
evidence, and the Court agrees that remand must follow,
especially considering the weight placed on Plaintiff's
mobility issues (or, the perceived lack thereof) in the
ALJ's discussion of these two domains.
domain of moving about and manipulating objects considers how
a child moves his body from one place to another and how he
moves and manipulates objects. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(j).
These tasks require the use of both gross and fine motor
skills and involve, among other actions, moving forward and
backward in space as when walking or running, and engaging
the upper and lower body to transfer objects from one place
to another. Id. §§
416.926a(j)(1)(ii)-(iii). With regard to this domain, the ...