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Rogers v. Berryhill

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

March 28, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT



         Plaintiff Jelisa Rogers o/b/o J.D.S. 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 May 20, 2013, alleging disability beginning on March 3, 2013. Docket 7 at 114-119.

         The agency administratively denied Plaintiff's claim initially on July 2, 2013 and on reconsideration on September 12, 2013. Id. at 48-54; 56-63. Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Jerry M. Lang held on December 10, 2014, at which Jelisa Rogers, [2] J.D.S.'s mother, testified on his behalf. Id. at 75-76; 85-89; 115. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 26, 2015. Id. at 14-29. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 5, 2016. Id. at 1-4. Plaintiff timely filed this appeal from the April 5, 2016, decision, the undersigned held a hearing on March 6, 2017, 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 10.

         I. FACTS

         The minor child, J.D.S. was born on September 23, 2011, and was three-years old at the time of the ALJ hearing.[3] Docket 7 at 36, 114. J.D.S.'s application for supplemental security income was filed by Jelisa Rogers, his mother, on his behalf. Id. at 114-19. Plaintiff alleges disability due to “chronic asthma and eczema and allergies.” Id. at 142. The ALJ determined that J.D.S. suffered from a severe impairment of asthma, 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 20. After considering the record evidence and applicable rulings and regulations, the ALJ found that J.D.S.'s “medically determinable impairment could reasonably be expected to produce the alleged symptoms; however, the statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely credible.” Id. at 22. The ALJ specifically found that “the objective evidence […] clearly shows that the claimant's condition improved when he was given the appropriate medications in the emergency department” and concluded that “the frequency of his emergency department visits would imply that he is not being given his medications as prescribed” despite being “prescribed appropriate medications for home use.” Id. at 23. After evaluating all of the evidence in the record, including Plaintiff's testimony, the ALJ held that J.D.S. is not disabled under the Social Security Act. Id. at 29.

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in concluding that J.D.S.'s asthma does not equal Listing 103.03[4] or, alternatively, is not medically equivalent or functionally equivalent to Listing 103.03, and that the ALJ failed to develop the record. Docket 12.


         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 he 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.[5] At all stages of the proceedings the burden rests upon the plaintiff to prove disability. First, the ALJ determines whether the child is working.[6] 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.[7] In making this determination, the ALJ must consider the combined effect of all medically determinable impairments, even those that are not severe.[8] 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 measures functional equivalency 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 himself; and

         6. Health and physical well-being.

20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)(i-vi)(2007). To be functionally equivalent to a listing, the medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments 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 (2007). 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.” Id. at §§ 416.926a(e)(2)(i) and 416.926a(e)(3)(i). When deciding whether a child has a marked or extreme limitation, the ALJ must consider the child's functional limitations in all areas, including their interactive and cumulative effects, and then make a determination as to whether the child is disabled under the Act. It is the ALJ's responsibility to determine functional equivalence along these domains. Id. § 416.926a(n).


         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision to deny benefits is limited to determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standard. Crowley v. Apfel,197 F.3d 194, 196 (5th Cir. 1999), citing Austin v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1170 (5th Cir. 1993); Villa v. Sullivan,895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990). The Court has the responsibility to scrutinize the entire record to determine whether the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied in reviewing the claim. Ransom v. Heckler, 715 F.2d 989, 992 (5th Cir. 1983). A court has limited power of ...

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