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Gaffney v. Saul

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

September 6, 2019

NICOLE GAFFNEY, o/b/o J.K., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER

          AMANDA ARNOLD SANSONE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Nicole Gaffney, on behalf of her minor child, J.K., seeks judicial review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying J.K.'s claim for Child's Supplemental Security Income Disability Benefits (SSID) under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). After reviewing the record, including a transcript of the proceedings before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the administrative record, the pleadings, and the joint memorandum submitted by the parties, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On April 14, 2015, Ms. Gaffney applied for SSI on behalf of J.K. due to an alleged disability beginning April 10, 2015. (Tr. 196). Disability examiners denied J.K.'s application at the initial and reconsideration levels. (Tr. 67-88). An administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing, and on September 5, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding J.K. not disabled. (Tr. 7-29). The Appeals Council denied Ms. Gaffney's request for a review of the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5, 152). Ms. Gaffney now seeks review of the Commissioner's final decision in this court. (Doc. 1).

         II. NATURE OF DISABILITY CLAIM

         A. Statement of the Case

         Ms. Gaffney is the mother of the child claimant J.K. (Tr. 208). J.K. was born in 2015 and is four years old. (Tr. 156). Ms. Gaffney filed for child SSID benefits on April 14, 2015, alleging disability beginning on April 10, 2015. (Tr. 154-164).

         B. Summary of the ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ must follow three steps in determining whether a child is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.902(c), 416.924. At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b). Substantial gainful activity is paid work that requires significant physical or mental activity. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.910. If the child is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the ALJ next determines, at step two, whether the child has an impairment or combination of impairments that cause marked or severe functional limitations; can be expected to cause death; or has lasted or can be expected to last for a period of at least twelve months. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.906, 416.924(c). If the child does not have a severe medically determinable impairment, then, at step three, the ALJ determines if the child's impairments meet, medically equal, or functionally equal an impairment listed in the Listings. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.911(b)(1), 416.924(d), 416.926a(a).

         An impairment or combination of impairments “functionally equals” a listing if the impairment “result[s] in ‘marked' limitations in two domains of functioning or an ‘extreme' limitation in one domain.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). These domains are intended to encapsulate all of what a child can do, and consist of the following: (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 yourself; and (6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1).

         The child has a marked limitation

when [the child's] impairment(s) interferes seriously with [the child's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. [The child's] day-to-day functioning may be seriously limited when [the child's] impairment(s) limits only one activity or when the interactive and cumulative effects of [the child's] impairment(s) limit several activities. “Marked” limitation also means a limitation that is “more than moderate” but “less than extreme.” It is the equivalent of the functioning [the Commissioner] would expect to find on standardized testing with scores that are at least two, but less than three, standard deviations below the mean.”

20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i).

         The child has an extreme limitation

when [the child's] impairment(s) interferes very seriously with [the child's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. [The child's] day-to-day functioning may be very seriously limited when [the child's] impairment(s) limits only one activity or when the interactive and cumulative effects of [the child's] impairment(s) limit several activities. “Extreme” limitation also means a limitation that is “more than marked.” “Extreme” limitation is the rating [the Commissioner] give[s] to the worst limitations. However, “extreme limitation” does not necessarily mean a total lack or loss of ability to function. It is the equivalent of the functioning [the Commissioner] would expect to find on standardized testing with scores that are at least three standard deviations below the mean.

20 C.F.R § 416.926a(e)(3)(i).

         The ALJ determined J.K. was a newborn/young infant and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity when Ms. Gaffney filed the application. (Tr. 13). After reviewing the record, the ALJ found J.K. to have the following severe impairments: hydrocephalus and macrocephaly, status post ventriculoperitoneal shunt placement, Dandy Walker malformation, status post tethering of spinal cord, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and developmental delays. (Id.). Despite these findings, the ALJ determined J.K. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met, medically equaled, or functionally equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the Listings). (Tr. 14-18).

         The ALJ then concluded J.K. had these limitations in the six functional domains:

DOMAIN:

LIMITATION:

Acquiring and Using Information

None

Attending and Completing Tasks

None

Interacting and Relating with Others

None

Moving About and Manipulating Objects

Marked

Caring for Yourself

None

Health and Physical Well-Being

Less than Marked

(Tr. 18-24). Because J.K. did not have an extreme limitation in one domain or marked limitations in two domains, the ALJ found J.K. not disabled. (Tr. 24).

         III. ...


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