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Latasha Bonet, O/B/O T.B v. Michael Astrue

August 16, 2012

LATASHA BONET, O/B/O T.B., PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Latasha Bonet o/b/o T.B. (TB), challenges the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) After reviewing the administrative record and carefully considering the arguments, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and Bonet's Complaint is dismissed.

II. Background

On April 10, 2009, Bonet protectively filed an application for SSI under the Social Security Act ("Act"), alleging disability since March 1, 2009. (See Tr.*fn1 at 10, 102-09.) After her application was denied, Bonet requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on November 2, 2010. (See id. at 5-6, 25-53.) On December 10, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision denying the benefits requested, which became the Commissioner's final decision upon the Social Security Administration Appeals Council's denial of review. (See id. at 1-4, 7-24.)

Bonet commenced the present action by filing a Complaint on September 26, 2011, seeking review of the Commissioner's determination. (See Compl.) The Commissioner filed an answer and a certified copy of the administrative transcript. (See Dkt. Nos. 7-8.) Each party, seeking judgment on the pleadings, filed a brief. (See Dkt. Nos. 12, 16.)

III. Contentions

Bonet contends that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence and was arrived at through the application of incorrect legal standards. (See Dkt. No. 12 at 19-30.) Specifically, she claims that the ALJ: (1) summarily concluded that TB's impairments did not meet or medically equal a Listing; and (2) incorrectly weighed the evidence in determining that TB's impairments did not functionally equal Listing 112.11.*fn2 (See id.) The Commissioner counters that the appropriate legal standards were applied by the ALJ, and that his decision is supported by substantial evidence. (See generally Dkt. No. 16.)

IV. Facts

The evidence in this case is undisputed and the court adopts the parties' factual recitations. (See Dkt. No. 12 at 1-18; see generally Dkt. No. 16 at 1.)

V. Standard of Review and Analysis Framework

The standard for reviewing the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard of review, the court refers the parties to its previous opinion in Christiana v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., No. 1:05-CV-932, 2008 WL 759076, at *1-2 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 19, 2008).

The Social Security Administration has established a three-step evaluation process by which to determine whether individuals under the age of 18 are disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). The first inquiry is whether the child is engaging in substantial gainful activity. See id. If so, the child is determined not to be disabled, and the inquiry ends. See id. If the child is not engaging in substantial gainful activity, the ALJ must determine whether the child has "an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe." Id. An impairment is not severe if it is merely a "slight abnormality . . . that causes no more than minimal functional limitations." Id. at § 416.924(c). If the ALJ concludes that no severe impairment exists, a determination of non-disability is made, and the analysis goes no further. See id. Where a severe impairment or combination of impairments exists, however, the final inquiry is whether the child's impairment or combination of impairments "meets, medically equals, or functionally equals the listings." Id. at § 416.924(a).If the child has such an impairment or combination of impairments, and the duration requirement is met, a finding of disability is made. Id.

VI. Discussion

A. Listing 112.11

Bonet contends first that TB's impairments meet Listing 112.11 and that the ALJ committed legal error by summarily reaching a contrary conclusion. (See Dkt. No. 12 at 19-23.) The Commissioner counters, and the court agrees, that remand is inappropriate because the ALJ's listing determination is supported by substantial evidence. (See Dkt. No. 16 at 3-9.)

To meet Listing 112.11, "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder," a claimant must satisfy both diagnostic and functional criteria: Parts A and B, respectively. 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpart P, app. 1, §§ 112.00, 112.11. Satisfaction of Part A requires "[m]edically documented findings of" marked inattention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity. Id. § 112.11. To satisfy Part B, the findings exhibited in Part A must result in at least two of the following: "[m]arked impairment in age-appropriate cognitive/communicative function"; "[m]arked impairment in age-appropriate social functioning"; "[m]arked impairment in age-appropriate personal functioning"; and "[m]arked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace." Id. §§ 112.02(B)(2)(a)-(d); 112.11.

Here, the ALJ began his listing analysis by noting that the "claimant's representative does not argue that the claimant's impairments meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments." (Tr. at 13.) He nevertheless concluded that "the claimant's impairments are not attended, singly or in combination, with the specific clinical signs and diagnostic findings required to meet or equal the listed impairments," and that "no findings may be substituted for the absent criteria." (Id.) Bonet claims that this terse analysis constitutes legal error. (See Dkt. No. 12 at 19-23.) A listing determination may be upheld despite "the absence of an express rationale," however, where "portions of the . . . decision and the evidence . . . indicate that [the ALJ's] conclusion was supported by substantial evidence." Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 468 (2d Cir. 1982). As in Schweiker, remand is not appropriate here because, despite the brevity of the ALJ's listing analysis, his thorough examination of the evidence elsewhere in the opinion-principally in assessing functional equivalency-provides substantial support for the determination that TB's impairments did not meet or medically equal a listing.

Assuming, arguendo, that TB's impairments satisfy Part A of Listing 112.11, substantial evidence supports a finding that they are not ...


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