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Caldwell v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 28, 2018

LINDA D. CALDWELL, o/b/o J.W., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         Represented by counsel, Linda D. Caldwell (“Plaintiff”) has brought this action on behalf of her minor son, J.W. (“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 to the extent that this matter is remanded for further administrative proceedings and Defendant's motion is denied.

         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 require 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 July 31, 2012, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for childhood SSI benefits on behalf of Claimant, her minor son, alleging disability due to a learning disorder. Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 108-13. Plaintiff's application was initially denied, and she timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). T. 74-76, 92-94. ALJ Donald McDougall held a hearing on January 10, 2014, at which Plaintiff and Claimant both testified. T. 35-53. On February 25, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision in which he determined that Claimant was not disabled as defined in the Act. T. 7-26. Plaintiff's request for Appeals Council review was denied on May 12, 2015, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. T. 1-6. Plaintiff subsequently filed this action.

         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 Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 31, 2012, the date of the application. T. 13. At step two, the ALJ found that Claimant suffered from the severe impairment of a learning disability. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or functionally equaled the severity of a listed impairment. Id. Specifically, the ALJ determined that Claimant had a less than marked limitation in the domains of Acquiring and Using Information and Attending and Completing Tasks and no limitations in the domains of Interacting and Relating with Others, Moving About and Manipulating Objects, Caring for Yourself, and Health and Physical Well-Being. T. 17-22. The ALJ therefore concluded that Claimant was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. T. 23.

         V. Discussion

         A. Scope of Review

         When considering a claimant's challenge to the decision of the Commissioner denying benefits under the Act, a district court must accept the Commissioner's findings of fact, provided that such findings are supported by "substantial evidence" in the record. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (the Commissioner's findings "as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive"). Although the reviewing court must scrutinize the whole record and examine evidence that supports or detracts from both sides, Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 774 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted), "[i]f there is substantial evidence to support the [Commissioner's] determination, it must be upheld." Selian v. Astrue, 708 F.3d 409, 417 (2d Cir. 2013). "The deferential standard of review for substantial evidence does not apply to the Commissioner's conclusions of law." Byam v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 172, 179 (2d Cir. 2003).

         In this case, Plaintiff contends that this matter should be remanded for further proceedings because (1) the ALJ failed to properly develop the record, (2) the ALJ's finding that Claimant had a less than marked limitation in the functional domains of Acquiring and Using Information and Attending and Completing Tasks was not supported by substantial evidence, and (3) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the credibility of both Plaintiff and Claimant. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that remand of this matter is appropriate.

         B. Failure to ...


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