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Perez v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

December 11, 2017

JAYMIE PEREZ, on behalf of C.P., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JULIE S. SNEED UNTIED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Jaymie Perez, on behalf of C.P. (“Claimant”), her minor child, seeks judicial review of the denial of Claimant's claim for supplemental security income (“SSI”). As the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision was based on substantial evidence and employed proper legal standards, the decision is affirmed.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         On July 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on Claimant's behalf. (Tr. 144-53.) The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claim both initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 66-74, 102-04.) Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing. (Tr. 110-11.) Upon Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff and Claimant appeared and testified. (Tr. 35- 57.) Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Claimant not disabled and accordingly denied Claimant's claim for SSI benefits. (Tr. 13-28.) Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied. (Tr. 1-9, 34.) Plaintiff then timely filed a complaint with this Court. (Dkt. 1.) The case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         B. Factual Background and the ALJ's Decision

         Plaintiff claimed that Claimant's disability began on the day of Claimant's birth, August 14, 2007. (Tr. 144.) Claimant was a preschool-aged child on the date the application was filed and a school-aged child at the time of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 16.) Plaintiff alleged Claimant's disability due to “PDD, ” global developmental delays, and language delays. (Tr. 240.)

         After conducting a hearing and reviewing the evidence of record, the ALJ determined that Claimant has never engaged in substantial gainful activity. (Tr. 16.) The ALJ then determined that Claimant had the following severe impairments: a cognitive processing disorder, a speech/language disorder, a motor/coordination disorder, and moderate sensorineural hearing loss. (Id.) Notwithstanding the noted impairments, the ALJ determined that Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“Listing”). (Tr. 17.) The ALJ further found that Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equaled a Listing. (Id.) In making this determination, the ALJ concluded that Claimant had less than marked limitations in the areas of acquiring and using information, attending and completing tasks, moving about and manipulating objects, and his health and physical well-being, and had no limitations in interacting and relating with others and caring for himself. (Tr. 17-28.) Accordingly, the ALJ found Claimant not disabled. (Tr. 28.)

         APPLICABLE STANDARDS

         An individual younger than the age of eighteen is considered to be disabled if he or she 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 at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i).

         Child disability claims are assessed under a three-step sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). Under this process, the ALJ must determine, in sequence, the following: (1) whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; and (3) whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets, medically equals, or functionally equals a Listing. Id.

         To “meet” a Listing, a child must actually suffer from the limitations specified in the Listing. Shinn ex rel. Shinn v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 391 F.3d 1276, 1279 (11th Cir. 2004). To “medically equal” the limitations found in a Listing, the child's limitations must be “at least of equal medical significance to those of a listed impairment.” Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.926). Alternatively, if a child's impairment does not meet or medically equal a Listing, a child may nonetheless be found disabled if the child's impairment “functionally equals” a Listing, which is determined by the extent to which the impairment limits the child's ability to function in the following six domains of life: (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. Id.; 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)(i)-(vi). A child's limitations “functionally equal” those in the Listings, and thus constitute a disability, if the child's limitations are “marked” in two of the six domains or are “extreme” in one of the six domains. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a), (d). A child's limitation is “marked” when it is “more than moderate” but “less than extreme.” Id. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). A marked limitation “interferes seriously” with a child's “ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.” Id. An “extreme” limitation is a limitation that is “more than marked” and “interferes very seriously with [the child's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.” Id. § 416.926a(e)(3)(i).

         A determination by the Commissioner that a child is not disabled must be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence and comports with applicable legal standards. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). While the court reviews the Commissioner's decision with deference to the factual findings, no such deference is given to the legal conclusions. Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994).

         In reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the court may not decide the facts anew, re-weigh the evidence, or substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ, even if it finds that the evidence preponderates against the ALJ's decision. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). The Commissioner's failure to apply the correct law, or to give the reviewing court sufficient reasoning for determining that he or she has conducted the proper legal analysis, mandates reversal. Keeton, 21 F.3d at 1066. The scope of review is thus limited to determining whether the findings of the Commissioner are ...


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