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Brown v. Astrue

United States District Court, Second Circuit

June 14, 2013

TRACY DENISE BROWN o/b/o G.J.R., Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

DECISION AND ORDER

MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Tracy Denise Brown ("Plaintiff"), on behalf of her minor daughter ("G.J.R."), brings this action pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Plaintiff alleges that the decision of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Joseph Grow was not supported by substantial evidence in the record and was based on erroneous legal standards.

Presently before the Court are the parties' competing motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence in the record and is in accordance with the applicable legal standards. Thus, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and Plaintiff's motion is denied. Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On September 24, 2008, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on behalf of G.J.R., claiming that she was disabled due to Crohn's disease and congenital abnormalities of both thumbs and index fingers. Administrative Transcript ("Tr.") 93-99. Plaintiff's claim was administratively denied on October 20, 2008. Tr. 62-64.

At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on September 1, 2010, with ALJ Joseph Grow presiding via videoconference from Baltimore, Maryland. Tr. 46-61. G.J.R. and Plaintiff, who were not represented, testified at the hearing. Id . On September 21, 2010, the ALJ denied the claim. Tr. 14-25. He found that G.J.R. was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act because substantial evidence in the record demonstrated that her impairments did not meet, medically equal, or functionally equal a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 416.924, 416.925, and 416.926). Tr. 17.

On February 28, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-28. This action followed.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

G.J.R. was born on July 21, 1995. Tr. 180. At the time of filing she was thirteen years old and in the eighth grade. She took regular classes, was not in speech therapy, liked school, and did "okay" in her classes. Tr. 50-51, 189, 378-79. G.J.R. was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in September of 2008 after she was hospitalized for 10 days due to diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss. Tr. 273-79, 280-313, 317-77, 382-85, 405-09. G.J.R. also has a history of congenital abnormalities of both thumbs and index fingers, however, she reported that it did not cause her pain or restrict her activities. Tr. 264-66.

G.J.R.'s Crohn's disease has been controlled by daily medications and drug infusions every eight weeks. Tr. 417-60. After being diagnosed, medication decreased her pain, improved her appetite, eliminated vomiting and nausea, and she was "active and full of energy." Tr. 315. G.J.R. sometimes feels tired after the drug infusions, however, and her condition has resulted in about 10 absences from school a year. Tr. 55, 57.

G.J.R.'s symptoms were under control from the end of September 2008 until she was hospitalized from June 30, 2010 to July 15, 2010 for a flare-up of Crohn's disease. Tr. 410-16. Since then, a colonoscopy performed in March 2011 showed mild Crohn's disease. Tr. 418. Treatment notes from the University of Rochester Medical Center indicated that G.J.R.'s Crohn's disease was effectively treated with medication, with no flare-ups since her hospitalization. Tr. 417-60.

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

Title 42 U.S.C., Section 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. Mathews v. Eldridge , 424 U.S. 319, 320 (1976). When considering such a claim, the section directs the Court to accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. See Bubnis v. Apfel , 150 F.3d 177, 181 (2d Cir. 1998); see also Williams v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 06-CV-2019 , 2007 U.S.App. LEXIS 9396, at *3 (2d Cir. Apr. 24, 2007).

Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. V. NLRB , 305 U.S. 197, 217 (1938). The Court's scope of review is thus limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record, and whether the Commissioner employed the proper legal standards in evaluating Plaintiff's claim. Mongeur v. Heckler , 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983)(finding that a reviewing Court does not try a Social Security benefits case de novo ). The Court must "scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached." Lynn v. Schweiker , 565 F.Supp. 265, 267 (S.D. Tex. 1983).

Judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) may be granted where the material facts are undisputed and where judgment on the merits is possible merely by considering the contents of the pleadings. Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc. , 842 F.2d 639 (2d Cir. 1988). If, after reviewing the record, the Court is convinced that Plaintiff has not set forth a plausible claim for relief, judgment on the pleadings may be appropriate. See generally Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544 (2007).

II. The Commissioner's Decision to Deny Benefits is Supported by Substantial Evidence in the Record.

The ALJ applied the Social Security Administration's three-step analysis for determining whether an individual under the age of 18 is entitled to disability benefits. Under the regulations, a child is disabled if:

1. she has not performed substantial gainful activity;
2. she has a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments that is "severe";
3. the impairment or combination of impairments meet, medically equal, or functionally equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

20 C.F.R. 416.924(a).

In determining whether an impairment or combination of impairments functionally equals the listings, the ALJ must assess the claimant's functioning in terms of six domains. See 20 C.F.R. ยง 416.926a(b)(1). These domains are: (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 yourself; and (6) health and physical well-being. Id.

An individual under the age of 18 will be considered disabled if she has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that results in marked and severe functional limitations, that can be expected to result in death or that have 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 ALJ found that G.J.R. was an adolescent, that she had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date, and that her Crohn's disease and congenital abnormalities of both thumbs and index fingers were severe impairments. Tr. 17. He determined, however, that these impairments did not meet, medically equal, or functionally equal a listing. Id . Thus, the ALJ concluded that G.J.R. was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Tr. 25. This Court finds that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record and is based on the appropriate legal standards.

Non-Medical Evidence

At the time of filing, G.J.R. was in the eighth grade, took regular classes, and participated in track and tutoring. Tr. 50-51, 58. She could care for her personal needs. Tr. 234.

At the hearing, G.J.R. testified that she had asthma, which occurred only when she had a cold, but that it was controlled with an inhaler and did not interfere with her participation in track. Tr. 58. Additionally, Plaintiff testified that G.J.R. needed speech classes, but she had not pursued them. Tr. 57. Plaintiff stated that G.J.R.'s grades were "okay." Tr. 58.

G.J.R. also testified that she had Crohn's disease. Tr. 51. It made her sick and caused her to lose weight because she had difficulty eating during a flare-up. Id . She was hospitalized for a flare-up of Crohn's disease from June 30 to July 15, 2010. Tr. 53-54. It was ...


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