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FIGUEROA v. CHATER

January 23, 1996

LYDIA FIGUEROA, as parent and next friend of Yaritza Ramos, Plaintiff,
v.
SHIRLEY S. CHATER, Commissioner of Social Security, 1 Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LARIMER

 Plaintiff Lydia Figueroa, as parent and next friend of her minor daughter Yaritza Ramos, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405 and 1383(c)(3), to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits. Pending before me is the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied and the matter is remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this Decision and Order.

 BACKGROUND

 DISCUSSION

 A. The Standard of Review

 A court may reverse the factual findings of the Commissioner only if those findings are not supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971). The determination of the Commissioner is conclusive as long as it is supported by substantial evidence and is not based on legal error. Crawford v. Bowen, 687 F. Supp. 99, 102 (S.D.N.Y. 1988)(citing Aubeuf v. Schweiker, 649 F.2d 107, 112 (2d Cir. 1981)).

 B. The Standard for Finding a Disability

 A person is considered to be disabled under the Social Security Act if he is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment 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 that twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). In the case of a child under the age of 18, the child is deemed to be disabled if he suffers from any medically determinable physical or mental impairment of comparable severity to the impairments which would render an adult disabled. Id.

 "Comparable severity" for a child means that the impairment so limits the child's ability to function independently, appropriately, and effectively in an age-appropriate manner that the impairment and the limitations resulting from it are comparable to those which would disable an adult. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). For a child such as Yaritza, between 3 and 16 years of age, the comparability of disability is measured primarily by whether the impairment substantially reduces the child's ability to "grow, develop, or mature physically, mentally, or emotionally and, thus, to engage in age-appropriate activities of daily living ... in self-care, play and recreation, school and academics, community activities, vocational settings, peer relationships, or family life." 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)(2); 20 C.F.R. § 416.924b(b)(3).

 The Commissioner must follow a four-step evaluation process to determine whether a child has an impairment of "comparable severity" such that he or she is entitled to SSI disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b). First, it must be determined whether the child is engaging in "substantial gainful activity." Id. at subpart (c). If so, there can be no finding of disability. If not, then it must be determined whether or not the child has a severe impairment, or combination of impairments. Id. at subpart (d). If not, there is no disability. If there is an impairment, it must then be determined whether or not the impairment meets or equals certain impairments set forth in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. § 404, subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. at subpart (e). If so, then the child is deemed to be disabled. If not, then the evaluation proceeds to its fourth and final step -- an individualized functional assessment ("IFA"). Id. at subpart (f). The IFA measures "the impact of [the child's] impairment(s) on [his] overall ability to function independently, appropriately, and effectively in an age-appropriate manner." Id. This analysis will determine whether the child has an impairment of comparable severity to an impairment that would disable an adult. Id.

 Formulating an IFA for the child requires an analysis of 6 so-called "domains" -- the 'cognitive' function; the 'communicative' function; the 'motor' function; the 'social' function; the 'personal/behavioral' function; and the 'concentration' function (which requires an analysis of the child's concentration, persistence and pace in the completion of age-appropriate tasks). 20 C.F.R. 416.924d(h)(1)-(6). Each domain is assessed separately, and, pursuant to the Commissioner's regulations, a child between the ages of 3 and 16 is deemed to be "disabled" if he (1) is impaired to a marked degree in one domain and to a moderate degree in at least one other domain; or (2) he is impaired to a moderate degree in three of the six domains. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924e(c)(2)(i)(ii).

 In this case, the ALJ determined that Yaritza (1) was not engaged in substantial activity; (2) was severely impaired; but (3) the impairment did not meet or equal the impairments listed on Appendix 1 of 20 CFR part 404, subpart P. Thus, he was required to perform the fourth step of the process: the IFA. The ALJ determined that Yaritza was not markedly impaired in any domain and that she was impaired to a moderate degree in only one domain, the 'communicative' function domain. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Yaritza did not suffer an impairment of comparable ...


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