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Saulsberry v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

February 22, 2017




         Plaintiff Alyssa Lashae Saulsberry has applied for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision denying her application for supplemental security income (SSI) as a disabled minor child under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Docket 1. Plaintiff filed an application for benefits as a disabled minor child on January 2, 2013, alleging disability beginning on August 8, 2012. Docket 8 at 131-36.

         The agency administratively denied Plaintiff's claim initially on April 2, 2013 and on reconsideration on May 2, 2013. Id. at 59-77. Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) William R. Ingram held on August 26, 2014, at which Plaintiff's mother, Melissa Denise Herns, testified on her behalf. Id. at 91-92, 101-05. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 13, 2015. Id. at 7-26. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 11, 2016. Id. at 1-4. Plaintiff timely filed this appeal from the May 11, 2016, decision, the undersigned held a hearing on February 15, 2016, and it is now ripe for review.

         Because both parties have consented to a magistrate judge conducting all the proceedings in this case as provided in 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the undersigned has the authority to issue this opinion and the accompanying final judgment. Docket 12.

         I. FACTS

         Plaintiff was born on October 3, 2006 and at the time of the ALJ hearing was seven years old and in the second grade. Docket 8 at 45, 131. Plaintiff's application for supplemental security income was filed by Melissa Denise Herns, her mother, on her behalf. Id. at 131-36. Plaintiff alleges disability due to “[attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], separation, mathematics, [developmental coordination disorder], [and] language disorder.” Id. at 156. The ALJ determined the Plaintiff suffered from a severe impairment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but that this impairment did not meet or equal a listed impairment in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.924, 416.925 and 416.926) or functionally equal the severity of the listings in 20 CFR 416.924(d) and 416.926(a). Id. at 13. After considering the record evidence and applicable rulings and regulations, the ALJ found the “statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of [Plaintiff's] symptoms are not entirely credible” as the relevant evidence does not reflect the severity of the alleged limitations. Id. at 15, 19. After evaluating all of the evidence in the record, including the mother's testimony, the ALJ held that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act. Id. at 25.

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in declining to grant Plaintiff's request for a supplemental hearing in violation of Hearings, Appeals, and Litigation Law Manual (HALLEX) I-2-7-30.


         The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act statutorily amended the relevant substantive standard for evaluating children's disability claims. Under the 1996 Act, a child seeking SSI benefits based on disability will be found disabled if she has a medically determinable impairment “which results in marked and severe functional limitations, ” and which meets the statutory duration requirement. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C) (2004). In determining disability of a child, the Commissioner, through the ALJ, works through a three-step sequential evaluation process.[1] At all stages of the proceedings the burden rests upon the plaintiff to prove disability. First, the ALJ determines whether the child is working.[2] Second, the ALJ decides whether the child has a medically determinable “severe” impairment or combination of impairments. Finally, at step three, for a finding of disabled, the ALJ must conclude the child's impairment or combination of impairments meets, medically equals, or functionally equals the severity of an impairment listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1, §§ 1.00-114.02.[3] In making this determination, the ALJ must consider the combined effect of all medically determinable impairments, even those that are not severe.[4] If plaintiff's impairment is severe but does not meet or equal in severity a listed impairment, the ALJ must then determine whether the impairment is “functionally equal in severity to a listed impairment.” Under the final regulations published by the Social Security Administration, effective January 2, 2001, the Commissioner evaluates a child's functional limitations in the following six domains:

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 himself; and 6. Health and physical ...

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