United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION and ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.
Diamoniqua Grant ("Plaintiff"), who is represented by counsel, brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("the Act"), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") when she was a minor child. This Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Presently before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. ##11, 16.
Quormina Taylor ("Taylor") protectively filed an SSI application on behalf of her minor daughter on June 5, 2009, alleging disability beginning on April 7, 2008. T. 120-22. Her application was initially denied, and a hearing was requested before an Administrative Law Judge. T. 70, 73-80. Plaintiff, her attorney, and Taylor appeared before ALJ Michael Devlin on August 24, 2010, in Rochester, New York. T. 49-69. An unfavorable decision was issued on October 22, 2010, in which the ALJ found: (1) Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since her application was filed; (2) she had the severe impairment of bipolar disorder; and (3) her impairment did not meet or equal the Listings set forth at 20 C.F.R. 404, Subpart P, Appx. 1. The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's limitations in the six domains of functioning, found that her impairment was not functionally equivalent to any listed impairment, and concluded that Plaintiff had not been disabled since the date of her application. T. 28-46.
The ALJ's determination became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied her request for review on August 14, 2012. T. 1-6. This action followed. Dkt.#1.
The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings arguing that the ALJ's decision must be affirmed because it was supported by substantial evidence and was based on the application of correct legal standards. Comm'r Mem. (Dkt.#11-1) 8-12.
Plaintiff has filed a cross-motion on the grounds that: (1) the ALJ improperly found Plaintiff and Taylor not credible, did not fully develop the record, and failed to find marked impairments in three of the six domains of functioning. Pl. Mem. (Dkt.#16-1) 7-13.
I. General Legal Principles
A. Standard of Review
A determination by the Commissioner that a claimant is not disabled will be set aside when the factual findings are not supported by "substantial evidence" or when the decision is based upon legal error. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Where the Commissioner's decision rests on adequate findings supported by evidence having rational probative force, " a reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Veino v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 578, 586 (2d Cir. 2002). However, this deferential standard is not applied to the Commissioner's application of the law. Townley v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 109, 112 (2d Cir. 1984). "Where there is a reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have [his] disability determination made according to the correct legal principles." Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987).
B. Legal Standard for Disability Claims by Children
To qualify as disabled under the Act, a child under the age of eighteen must have "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). By regulation, the Commissioner has promulgated a three-step analysis to determine whether a child is eligible for SSI benefits on the basis of a disability. Encarnacion ex rel. George v. Astrue, 586 F.3d 72, 75 (2d Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.924, et seq.).
First, the ALJ determines whether the child is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. § § 416.924(a), (b). Second, the ALJ considers whether the child has a "medically determinable impairment that is severe, " in that it causes "more than minimal functional limitations." Id., § 416.924(c). If a severe impairment is present, the ALJ must then consider whether the impairment "meets, medically equals, " or "functionally equals" a presumptively disabling condition listed in the regulatory "Listing of Impairments." Id., § 416.924(d); 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appx. 1.
The limitations caused by a child's severe impairment or combination of impairments are evaluated in the context of the following six domains of functioning: (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 oneself; and (6) the child's health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1). "For a child's impairment to functionally equal a listed impairment, the impairment must result in "marked" limitations in two domains of functioning or an "extreme" limitation in one domain.'" Encarnacion, 568 F.3d at 75 (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a)). An "extreme limitation" is an impairment which "interferes very seriously with [the claimant's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities." 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(3)(i). A "marked limitation" is an impairment that "interferes seriously with [the claimant's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities." 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). "A marked limitation may arise when several activities or functions are impaired, or even ...