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Goins v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

November 3, 2017

ANGELA GOINS, o/b/o J.D.G., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Represented by counsel, Angela Goins (“Plaintiff”) has brought this action on behalf of her school-age daughter (“J.D.G.” or “Claimant”) pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security[1] (“defendant” or “the Commissioner”) denying plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). This Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g). 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, Plaintiff's motion is granted and this matter is reversed and remanded solely for the calculation and payment of benefits.

         II. Eligibility for Childhood SSI

         For the purpose of evaluating eligibility for childhood SSI benefits, an individual under the age of 18 is considered disabled if he has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that results in marked and severe functional limitations, and that can be expected to result in death, or that has lasted, or can be expected to last, for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382c (a) (3) (C) (I). The regulations establish a sequential evaluation for determining whether a child claimant meets this definition of disabled, and requires the claimant to show: (1) that he is not working; (2) that he has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; and (3) that his impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals the listings in Part A or B of Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Part 404 of the Social Security Administration's regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. A child's functional limitations are evaluated in the context of six broad functional areas, called “domains of functioning.” See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a (b) (1). If a child has marked limitations in two domains or an extreme limitation in one domain, the child's impairment or combination of impairments is functionally equivalent to a listed impairment. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a (d).

         III. Procedural History

         On April 25, 2012, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI on behalf of J.D.G., her minor daughter, alleging disability since November 1, 2011 (T. 139-47). The SSA denied the application, and Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (T. 86-103.) ALJ Edward I. Pitts held a hearing on January 24, 2014. (T. 44-85.) On April 25, 2014, the ALJ determined that J.D.G. was not disabled. (T. 25-40.) Plaintiff's request for Appeals Council review was denied on April 6, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner (T. 1-5.) Plaintiff subsequently filed this action.

         The Court assumes the parties' familiarity with the facts of this case, which will not be repeated here. The Court will discuss the record further below as necessary to the resolution of the parties' contentions.

         IV. The ALJ's Decision

         In considering plaintiff's claim, the ALJ applied the three-step sequential evaluation for evaluating child disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. At step one, the ALJ determined that J.D.G. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity at any time relevant to this decision. (T. 31.) At step two, the ALJ found that J.D.G. suffered from the severe impairments of chronic abdominal pain, obesity, and possible ADHD or other learning disorder. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that J.D.G. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled any impairment listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.) The ALJ further found that J.D.G.'s impairments were not functionally equivalent to a listed impairment. (T. 31-34.) Specifically, the ALJ determined that J.D.G. had a marked limitation in the domain of Attending and Completing Tasks; and less than marked limitations in the domains of Acquiring and Using Information, Interacting and Relating with Others, Moving About and Manipulating Objects, Caring for Himself, and Health and Physical Well-Being. (T. 34-39.) The ALJ therefore concluded that J.D.G. was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (T. 39.)

         V. Scope of Review

         A district court may set aside the Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not disabled only if the factual findings are not supported by “substantial evidence” or if the decision is based on legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g); see Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003). “Substantial evidence means ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000).

         VI. Discussion

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's functional equivalence analysis is not supported by substantial evidence and was the product of legal error. (Docket 10 at 7.) The Commissioner contends that ...


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