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Gjamila Williams, O/B/O J.J., A Minor v. Michael J. Astrue

March 8, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Randolph F. Treece United States Magistrate Judge


In this action, Plaintiff Gjamila Williams, on behalf of her son, J.J., a minor, moves, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying her son's application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).*fn2 Based upon the following discussion, this Court upholds the Commissioner's decision denying Social Security benefits.


A. Facts

J.J., born on April 27, 1995, was eleven years old at the time an application for SSI was protectively filed on his behalf. Dkt. No. 7, Admin. Tr. [hereinafter "Tr."] at p. 72. The Court adopts the facts as set forth by the Plaintiff in her Brief under the heading "STATEMENT OF FACTS" with the exception of any conclusions or inferences included thereto. Dkt. No. 14, Pl.'s Br., at pp. 2-10.

In January 2004, J.J. damaged his left eye while playing. Following this incident, it was determined that J.J. suffered a ruptured globe and he underwent an operation to repair a corneal laceration on his left eye. Tr. at pp. 151-54. Another operation followed a few months later. Id. J.J. wears prescription glasses and a contact lens. In July of that same year, J.J. was shot outside his home, resulting in several operations to retrieve bullet fragments in his lower abdomen and later to alleviate bowel obstructions. Id. at pp. 217-62 & 267-83. As a result of these two events, J.J. alleges a disability due to the following: "status post gunshot wound to the abdomen and right leg with ongoing intermittent small bowel obstruction and right leg nerve damage . . .; status post ruptured globe repair with ongoing impaired vision . . .; 'developmental delay' . . .; and Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood . . . ." Pl.'s Br. at p. 2.

B. Procedural History

October 28, 2006, Gjamila Williams, on behalf of her minor son, protectively filed for SSI benefits alleging a disability onset date of January 25, 2004. Tr. at pp. 72-75 & 88. The application was denied initially. Id. at pp. 52 & 53-57. On October 14, 2008, a Hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) F. Patrick Flanagan, and on December 31, 2008, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding J.J. was not entitled to benefits. Id. at pp. 5-25; Dkt. No. 12, Supp. Admin. Tr. [hereinafter "Supp. Tr.] at pp. 320-52. On September 10, 2009, the Appeals Council concluded that there was no basis under the Regulations to grant Plaintiff's and her son's request for review, thus rendering the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Commissioner. Tr. at pp. 1-4. Exhausting all of her options for review through the Social Security Administration's tribunals, Plaintiff now brings this appeal.

In this appeal, this Court must determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal principles and whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision that J.J. was not disabled from October 18, 2006, the SSI application date, through December 31, 2008, the date of the ALJ's decision.*fn3


A. Standard of Review

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the proper standard of review for this Court is not to employ a de novo review, but rather to discern whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings and that the correct legal standards have been applied. See Rivera v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 964, 967 (2d Cir. 1991); Urtz v. Callahan, 965 F. Supp. 324, 325-26 (N.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing, inter alia, Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987)). Succinctly defined, substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla," it is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consol. Edison Co. of New York v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938).

The ALJ must set forth the crucial factors supporting the decision with sufficient specificity. Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir. 1984). Where the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the court may not interject its interpretation of the administrative record. Williams ex rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Where the weight of the evidence, however, does not meet the requirement for substantial evidence or a reasonable basis for doubt exists as to whether correct legal principles were applied, the ALJ's decision may not be affirmed. Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d at 986.

B. Determination of Disability

On August 22, 1996, Congress enacted the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which modified the standards for determining whether a child is eligible for SSI disability beneftis. See Pub. L. No. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105 (1996) (codified as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1305 et seq). To qualify for disability benefits under the Act, an individual under the age of 18 shall be considered disabled . . . if that individual 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).

The Act does not require that the severity of a child's impairment be of comparable severity to that of a disabled adult. In order to determine if a child is disabled, the ALJ must proceed with a three-step analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). The first step requires the ALJ to consider whether the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b). If the child is so engaged, he or she will not be awarded SSI benefits. Id. If the child is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the ALJ next considers the child's physical and mental impairments to determine whether they are severe. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c). If there is no medically determinable impairment or if there is only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities that causes no more than minimal functional limitations, the child will not be considered disabled. Id. If a severe impairment is found, the ALJ must consider whether the impairment meets or is medically or functionally equal in severity to a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924(c) & (d).

C. ALJ Flanagan's Findings

Gjamila Williams and J.J. testified at the Hearing before ALJ Flanagan. Supp. Tr. at pp. 320-52. In addition to such testimony, the ALJ had J.J.'s school records, including two Teacher Questionnaires, as well as medical records, consisting of treatment reports and opinions from various treating and/or examining physicians, including, but not limited to (1) Deborah A. Doyle, School Writing Instructor; (2) Amy M. Johnson, School Health Teacher; (3) Crouse Hospital Emergency and Inpatient Records; (4) Myra Shayevitz, M.D., Agency Pediatric Physical Examiner; (5) University Center for Vision Care Outpatient Hospital Records; (6) R. Mohanty, M.D., Agency Psychiatrist; (7) Hutchings Psychiatric Center Outpatient Hospital Records; (8) ...

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