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Barbara Pough, O/B/O K.P., A Minor v. Commissioner of Social Security

September 28, 2012


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


In this action, Plaintiff Barbara Pough, on behalf of her son, K.P., 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.


K.P., born on December 26, 1998, was eight years old at the time an application for SSI was protectively filed on his behalf by his mother, Barbara, on September 18, 2007. Dkt. No. 8, Admin. Tr. [hereinafter "Tr."] at pp. 85-89. Disability is claimed due to K.P.'s diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"). Id. at pp. 15 & 63. The application was denied initially. Id. at pp. 63 & 66-73. On June 19, 2009, a Hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Robert Ringler, and on July 15, 2009, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding K.P. was not entitled to benefits. Id. at pp. 9-25. On October 22, 2010, 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. Id. at pp. 1-5. 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 K.P. was not disabled from September 18, 2007, the SSI application date, through July 15, 2009, 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 benefits. 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 Ringler's Findings

Barbara Pough and K.P. testified at the Hearing before ALJ Ringler. Tr. at pp. 26-62. In addition to such testimony, the ALJ had K.P.'s school records, including a Teacher Questionnaire and Mid-Trimester Interim Progress Report, as well as medical records, consisting of treatment reports and opinions from various treating and/or examining physicians. See generally id. at pp. 102-25, 136-49, 181-91, 194-99, & 205-31.

Using the three-step disability evaluation, ALJ Ringler found that: (1) K.P. had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity at any time relevant to his decision; (2) he has a severe, medically determinable impairment, namely ADHD; and (3) his severe impairment does not meet, medically equal, nor functionally equal any impairment listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P of Social Security Regulation No. 4, and, therefore, K.P. is not disabled. Id. at pp. 9-25.

D. Plaintiff's Contentions

In a terse, four-paged Brief, which contains few citations to the record and even fewer case citations, Plaintiff contends that several errors were made at the administrative level that require remand. First, the Plaintiff states that the Appeals Council erred when it failed to remand the claim back to the ALJ in light of new and material evidence presented to it. Next, the Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred when he failed to consider K.P.'s oppositional defiance ...

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