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A.G.C. v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 16, 2017

A.G.C., By Damaris Santiago Martinez, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO AFFRM THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER (Dkt. Nos. 16 & 25)

          KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the court is an action for judicial review of a final decision by the acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) regarding the plaintiff's entitlement to Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Plaintiff Damaris Santiago Martinez (“Plaintiff”), on behalf of her son A.G.C. (“A.G.C.”), asserts that the Commissioner's decision denying A.G.C. SSI benefits, which denial was memorialized in a July 8, 2014 decision by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), was not based on substantial evidence. Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, while the Commissioner has filed a competing Motion to Affirm the Commissioner's Decision, in which the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) argues that the Commissioner's decision was supported by substantial evidence.

         The parties have consented to this court's jurisdiction (Dkt. No. 17). See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. For the reasons set forth below, the court will allow the Commissioner's motion to affirm, and deny Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

         I. Procedural background

         Plaintiff filed a protective application for SSI benefits on April 23, 2010 alleging a December 13, 2002 onset of disability (Administrative Record (“A.R.”) at 311-317). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Following a December 12, 2011 hearing, the ALJ found that A.G.C. was not disabled (id. at 181-199). The Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ for review and discussion of records from A.G.C.'s school (id. at 200-03). Following a second hearing, the same ALJ again determined that A.G.C. was not disabled (id. at 70-87). The Appeals Council denied review (id. at 1-6), and this appeal followed.

         II. Disability standard

         The Social Security Act defines a child under the age of 18 as disabled if the child “has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and which can be expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C). When a claim for benefits is made on behalf of a child under the age of 18, the Commissioner must determine whether the child's alleged impairment is severe. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)(c). If an impairment is found to be severe, “the question becomes whether the impairment is one that is listed in, or medically or functionally equals, the Listings.” Blackmore ex rel. v. Astrue, Civil No. 09-385-P-S, 2010 WL 2674594, at *1 (D. Me. June 29, 2010), adopted, 2010 WL 2899704 (D. Me. July 19, 2010) (citing 20 C.F.R. 416.924(a)).

The Social Security regulations include a three-step test for the purpose of adjudicating children's disability claims . . . 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b)-(d). That test, known as the Children's Benefit Analysis, requires the ALJ to determine: (1) whether the child is engaged in “substantial gainful activity, ” (2) whether the child has “a medically determinable impairment[] that is severe, ” and (3) whether the child's impairment(s) . . . meet, medically equal, or functionally equal [a] list[ed impairment.]” Id.; see generally Fleetwood v. Colvin, 103 F.Supp.3d 199, 202-03 (D.R.I. 2015). A negative answer at any step precludes a finding of disability. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). “The claimant seeking [childhood] benefits bears the burden of proving that his or her impairment meets or equals a listed impairment.” Hall ex rel. Lee v. Apfel, 122 F.Supp.2d 959, 964 (N.D.Ill. 2000) (citing Maggard v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 376, 380 (7th Cir. 1999)).
In considering whether the child has an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equals the severity of a listing, the six functional equivalence domains set forth in the regulations must be considered. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(g)-(1). They are:
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.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(I). To qualify as functionally equivalent to a listing, the child's impairment “must result in [either] ‘marked' limitations in two domains of functioning or an ‘extreme' limitation in one domain.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). The child has a “marked” limitation - i.e., one “that is ‘more than moderate' but ‘less than extreme'”- when the impairment “interferes seriously with [the child's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). The child has an “extreme” limitation when the impairment “interferes very seriously with [the child's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(3)(i).

Costa O/b/o X.C. v. Colvin, C.A. No. 15-540ML, 2016 WL 7974120, at *5 (D.R.I. Dec. 21, 2016), adopted, 2017 WL 354284 (D.R.I. Jan. 24, 2017). The functional equivalence rules require the Commissioner to consider how a child seeking SSI benefits “functions every day and in all settings compared to other children the same age who do not have impairments.” SSR 09-1P, 2009 WL 396031, at *2 (2009). An ALJ is required to ...


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