United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division
DAVID A. SANDERS, Magistrate Judge.
This matter is before the court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying the application of Lutisha K. Bolden for Disability Insurance Benefits under the Social Security Act. The parties in this case have consented to entry of final judgment by the United States Magistrate Judge under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), with any appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. After considering the issues raised and hearing oral argument on the matter, the court finds as follows:
Claimant was born prematurely on November 9, 2005 and was small for her gestational age. Based on the impairments flowing from her premature birth, the Commissioner found that claimant was disabled and entitled to child's Supplemental Security Income benefits ("SSI") on March 16, 2006. Specifically, the Commissioner found that these impairments functionally equaled the criteria for Listing 100.03: Growth Impairment.
Approximately four years later, the Commissioner conducted a continuing disability review ("CDR") of claimant's disability status, as is required by the Social Security Act. Based on this review, the Commissioner found that claimant's impairments had medically improved, and therefore, that claimant was no longer disabled and entitled to benefits as of April 30, 2010. On reconsideration, a state agency disability hearing officer upheld this determination. At claimant's request, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing on June 14, 2012. After reviewing claimant's case de novo, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, which affirmed the Commissioner's prior cessation of claimant's benefits.
In reaching this decision, the ALJ applied the three-step, sequential evaluation process in determining whether claimant was disabled within the purview of the Act. At step one, the ALJ found that claimant's original impairments, i.e., those stemming from her premature birth, had experienced medical improvement. In light of this medical improvement, the ALJ found at Step 2 that claimant's impairments were no longer "severe" within the purview of the Act, and correspondingly, no longer functionally equaled the listing for "growth impairment." At this same step, however, the ALJ found that claimant had the following severe medically determinable impairments at the time of the CDR: speech delay, borderline intellectual function and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
At Step 3, the ALJ found that none of claimant's impairments met, medically equaled or functionally equaled any impairment listed in Appendix 1. However, in making this finding, the ALJ did not cite to any particular listing. Instead, the ALJ only evaluated claimant's impairments to see whether they functionally equaled the listings by analyzing them under the six domains of functioning (20 C.F.R. § 416.929a(g)-(l)).
Under his § 416.929a analysis, the ALJ found that claimant had "less than marked limitation" in five of the six domains. As for the remaining domain, the ALJ found that no limitations were apparent from the record. Although he previously stated that claimant's impairments "could reasonably be expected to produce the alleged symptoms, " which would have resulted in marked limitations in more than one domain, the ALJ discounted claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of such because he found them to be "not credible."
Ultimately, the ALJ held that claimant's disability had ended on April 30, 2010. This unfavorable decision was subsequently affirmed by the Appeals Council, and claimant filed the present action, which is now properly before the court.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Claims for Supplemental Security Income on behalf of disabled children under the age of eighteen are assessed according to a special disability standard in the Social Security Act. A child is disabled for purposes of the Act if:
[T]hat individual has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked or 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). In the same manner as adult claims, disability assessments for child's Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") claims must pass through the first two steps of the sequential evaluation process; therefore, a child is not eligible if she is actually engaging in substantial gainful activity and, if not, the child must have a "severe" impairment.
However, the disability determination process is substantially more restrictive in child's SSI cases once it is determined that the child has a severe impairment. Frank S. Bloch, Bloch on Social Security, § 344 (2015). At that point, unlike adult claims that move through up to three more steps in the sequential evaluation process, a child must prove that he or she has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the requirements of the Listing of Impairments, "medically equals the severity of a set of criteria for an impairment in the listings, " or "functionally equals the listings." See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d). The regulations also set out a ...