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Coleman v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

February 14, 2014

MARNARGARIE COLEMAN, on behalf of S.J., Plaintiff,


LINDA R. ANDERSON, Magistrate Judge.

Marnargarie Coleman appeals the final decision denying the application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") that she filed on behalf of her minor son, S.J. The Commissioner requests an order pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), affirming the final decision of the Administrative Law Judge. Having carefully considered the hearing transcript, the medical records in evidence, and all the applicable law, the undersigned recommends that the decision be affirmed.

Facts and Procedural Background

On January 12, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on behalf of her then 4year-old son, S.J., alleging he became disabled on January 1, 2007, due to asthma, learning problems, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff appealed the denial, and on July 11, 2011, Administrative Law Judge Larry J. Stroud ("ALJ") rendered an unfavorable decision, finding that Plaintiff had not established that S.J. was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. She now appeals that decision.

Childhood Disability Standard

In order for a child to be found disabled and entitled to SSI benefits, he or she 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). When evaluating a child's eligibility for disability benefits, an ALJ engages in a three-step sequential process, which considers:

(1) whether the child is doing substantial gainful activity;
(2) if not, whether the child has a medically determinable "severe" impairment or combination of impairments; and
(3) if so, whether the child's impairment or combination of impairments meets, medically equals, or functionally equals the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.

See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924 (b)-(d). If a child's impairment does not meet, medically equal, or functionally equal a listed impairment, the child will not be considered disabled. Functional equivalency is measured according to six domains of function: (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) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1); see also Harris v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 413, 417 (5th Cir. 2000) (citing Sullivan v. Zebley 493 U.S. 521, 530-32 (1990)). To be functionally equivalent to a listing, the impairment must result in either a "marked' limitation in two domains of functioning or an extreme' limitation in one domain...." 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). A marked limitation interferes seriously with the child's ability to "independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities, " while an extreme limitation "interferes very seriously with [the child's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities." 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.926a(e)(2)(i) & 416.926a(e)(3)(i).

Upon reviewing the evidence, the ALJ concluded that S.J. was not disabled under the Social Security Act and was not entitled to childhood disability benefits pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). At step one of the three-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that S. J. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 12, 2010, the application date. At steps two and three, the ALJ found that while S.J.'S asthma, ADHD, borderline intellectual functioning, and language delay were severe, the medical evidence did not support listing-level severity. With regard to the six functional domains, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had no limitations in moving and manipulating objects, and less than marked limitations in acquiring and using information; attending and completing tasks; health and physical well-being; interacting and relating with others; and, caring for himself.

Standard of Review

This Court's review of the ALJ's decision is limited to two basic inquiries: "(1) whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the [ALJ's] decision; and (2) whether the decision comports with relevant legal standards." Brock v. Chater, 84 F.3d 726, 728 (5th Cir. 1996) (citing Carrier v. Sullivan, 944 F.2d. 243, 245 (5th Cir. 1991)). See also Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The Fifth Circuit defines substantial evidence as "that which is relevant and sufficient for a reasonable mind to accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it must be more than a scintilla, but it need not be a preponderance." Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995) (quoting Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 295 (5th Cir. 1992)). Any findings by the Commissioner that are supported by substantial evidence are conclusive. Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir. 1995).


Coleman raises three primary arguments on appeal: (1) the ALJ erred in failing to appoint her representation; (2) the ALJ's finding that S.J.'s impairments did not meet Listings 112.05(D) for mental retardation is not supported by substantial evidence; and (3) the ALJ failed to fully develop the record in assessing whether the claimant's asthma meets Listing 103.3.

1. Whether the ALJ erred in allowing the claimant's mother to proceed without counsel during ...

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