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Bonet v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 18, 2015

LATASHA BONET, on behalf of T.B., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

DECISION and ORDER

THOMAS J. McAVOY, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff Latasha Bonet, on behalf of T.B., her minor son, brought this suit under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act ("Act"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denying the applications for benefits is not supported by substantial evidence and contrary to the applicable legal standards. The Commissioner argues that the decision is supported by substantial evidence and made in accordance with the correct legal standards. Pursuant to Northern District of New York General Order No. 8, the Court proceeds as if both parties had accompanied their briefs with a motion for judgment on the pleadings.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This case concerns the Plaintiff Latasha Bonet's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") to support T.B. ("Claimant'), her minor son. The record indicates that T.B., who is eleven years old, suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD") and Oppositional Defiant Disorder ("ODD"). Since completing kindergarten, he has been a student at a day treatment program because of multiple academic and behavioral difficulties.

Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on January 7, 2011. (Social Security Administrative Record ("R."), dkt. # 8, at 164-169). The Commissioner initially denied the claim on April 6, 2011. (R. at 129-140). On April 25, 2011, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Id. at 141). That hearing was held on March 29, 2012. (Id. at 153-161). The ALJ, Carl E. Stephan, issued an unfavorable decision on April 13, 2012. (Id. at 34-57). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the decision, which the Social Security Appeals Council rejected on June 6, 2013. (Id. at 1-6).

ALJ Stephan's April 13, 2012 Decision thus became the final determination of the Commissioner. As indicated above, Plaintiff brings this action under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act ("Act"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review this final decision of the Commissioner.

II. FACTS

The parties do not dispute the underlying facts of this case as set forth by Plaintiff in her memorandum of law, though they do dispute the significance of those facts. Accordingly, the Court assumes familiarity with these facts and will set forth only those facts material to the parties' arguments.

III. DISABILITY ASSESSMENT FOR CLAIMANT

T.B. is a minor child. "The Social Security Administration has established a threestep evaluation process by which to determine whether individuals under the age of 18 are disabled. Shatraw v. Astrue, No. 11cv13, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21931 at *3 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 22, 2012) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)). First, the Commissioner asks whether the child is engaged "in substantial gainful activity." Id . If so, no disability exists. Id . If not, "the ALJ must then determine whether the child has an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe.'" Id . (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)). Without out such impairments, the Commissioner must find that no disability exists. Id . When the Commissioner finds such impairments, "the final inquiry is whether the child's impairment or combination of impairments meets, medically equals, or functionally equals the listings.'" Id . (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)). A child with such impairments is disabled. Id.

As in many such cases, the question here is whether the Claimant's impairments "functionally equal" an impairment included in the listing. Such a finding of functional equivalence requires "marked' limitations in two, or an extreme limitation' in one, of the following six domains': (i) [a]cquiring and using information; (ii) [a]ttending and completing tasks; (iii) [i]nteracting and relating with others; (iv) [m]oving about and manipulating objects; (v) [c]aring for yourself; and (vi) [h]ealth and physical well-being.'" Id. at *5 (quoting 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.926a(a), (b)(1)(i)-(vi)). A finding of functional equivalence is a finding that the Claimant is disabled under the Act.[1]

IV. THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

ALJ Stephan issued his decision denying Claimant's benefits on April 13, 2012. (R. at 34-57). The ALJ noted that a person "under the age of 18 will be considered disabled if he has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that results in marked and severe physical limitations, and that 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." (Id. at 37). The ALJ applied the three-step sequential evaluation process established by 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a) to make this determination.

At step one, the ALJ concluded that Claimant was not engaging in substantial gainful activity, and had not done so since the application date, Decem ber 22, 2010. (Id. at 40). At step two, the ALJ found that claimant suffered from the severe impairments of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD") and oppositional defiant disorder ("ODD"). (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that the Claimant "does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1." (Id.). He found that the Claimant's "impairment does not meet or medically equal the listing 112.11, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder." (Id.). Claimant's ADHD was not "manifested by developmentally inappropriate degrees of inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity." (Id.). The ALJ also decided that Claimant did "not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equals the severity of the listings[.]" (Id.).

The ALJ found that a marked limitation occurs when the "impairment(s) interferes seriously' with the ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities." (Id. at 39). Serious limitation can come "when the impairment(s) limits only one activity or when the interactive and cumulative effects of the ...


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