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Wright v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 18, 2018

Lakina Wright o/b/o L.R.
v.
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;

          ORDER

          STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Dear Ms. Wright and Counsel:

         On March 8, 2017, Plaintiff Lakina Wright, who proceeds pro se, petitioned this Court to review the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny her claim for Children's Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on behalf of her minor daughter, L.R. [ECF No. 1]. Ms. Wright did not file a motion for summary judgment, but filed a response to the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. [ECF No. 18]. I have considered the Commissioner's motion and Ms. Wright's response. [ECF Nos. 16, 18]. I find that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). This Court must uphold the decision of the Agency if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the Agency employed proper legal standards. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Under that standard, I will grant the Commissioner's motion and affirm the Commissioner's judgment pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This letter explains my rationale.

         Ms. Wright protectively filed a claim for Children's SSI on behalf of L.R. on August 7, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of June 20, 2009. (Tr. 137-42). L.R. was awarded benefits for her impairment of “prematurity with low birth weight.” (Tr. 9, 12). Following a continuing disability review, L.R.'s benefits ceased as of March 11, 2013. (Tr. 46-48). The cessation was upheld on reconsideration. (Tr. 59-60). A hearing was initially scheduled on January 13, 2015, but was postponed to allow time for Ms. Wright to obtain a representative. (Tr. 102); see also (Tr. 9). Ms. Wright, however, did not secure representation. (Tr. 29-30). A hearing was held on August 20, 2015, before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 27-41). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an opinion denying benefits. (Tr. 6-26). The Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Ms. Wright's request for further review, (Tr. 1-3), so the ALJ's decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the Agency.

         The ALJ evaluated Ms. Wright's claim using the three-step sequential process to determine whether L.R.'s impairments have medically improved and no longer result in marked and severe functional limitations, as set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.994a. At step one, the ALJ must determine whether there has been medical improvement in the impairment found at the time of the most recent favorable decision-otherwise known as the comparison point decision (“CPD”). 20 C.F.R. § 416.994a(b)(1). If there is medical improvement, at step two, the ALJ must consider whether the impairment meets or medically equals the severity of the listed impairment that it met or equaled at the time of the CPD. Id. § 416.994a(b)(2). If the impairment does not meet or equal the severity of the listing, at step three, the ALJ must determine whether the child remains disabled. Id. § 416.994a(b)(3). In doing so, the ALJ must consider: (1) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (2) whether the claimant's impairment(s) meet or medically equal the severity of any listings; and (3) whether the claimant's impairment(s) functionally equal the severity of any listings. Id.

         For children, listings describe impairments that cause marked and severe functional limitations. See Id. § 416.924. Generally, a child's impairment meets “listing-level severity” if it causes “‘marked' limitations in two domains of functioning or an ‘extreme' limitation in one domain [of functioning].” Id. § 416.925; see also Id. § 416.926a(e). If an impairment does not meet or equal any listings, the ALJ may determine that the impairment is functionally equivalent to a listing. Id. § 416.926a(a). In doing so, the ALJ considers the child's daily activities, including everything the child does at home, at school, and in the community. Id. § 416.926a(b). Next, the ALJ assesses the child's capacity to perform activities and identifies which of the child's activities are limited in any or all of the six domains or broad areas of functioning. Id; see also SSR 09-1p, 2009 WL 39603, at *2 (Feb. 17, 2009). The six domains include: (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)(i)-(vi).

         In evaluating the child's ability to function in each domain, the ALJ will consider information related to the following questions:

(i) What activities is the child able to perform?
(ii) What activities is the child not able to perform?
(iii) Which of the child's activities are limited or restricted compared to other children her age who do not have impairments?
(iv) Where does the child have difficulty with her activities-at home, in childcare, at school, or in the community?
(v) Does the child have difficulty independently initiating, sustaining, or completing activities?
(vi) What kind of help does the child need to do her activities, how much help does she need, and how often does she need it?

Id. §§ 416.926a(b)(2)(i)-(vi). An impairment functionally equals a listing if the claimant has “marked” limitations in two domains, or an “extreme” limitation in ...


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