United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
JUANA T. ex rel. A.L., a minor, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
M. DiGirolamo United States Magistrate Judge.
Juana T. on behalf of her minor son (“A.L.”)
seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3) of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Defendant” or the
“Commissioner”) denying her child's
application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI
of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 21) and
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
Plaintiff contends that the administrative record does not
contain substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's decision that A.L. is not disabled. No.
hearing is necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons that
follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
24) is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 21) is DENIED, and
the Commissioner's final decision is
January 21, 2016, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Francine L. Applewhite held a hearing
where Plaintiff and A.L. testified. R. at 171-219. The ALJ
thereafter found on February 23, 2016, that A.L. was not
disabled since the application date of April 2, 2013. R. at
146-70. In so finding, the ALJ found that A.L., who was born
in November 2007, (1) had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the application date of April 2, 2013; and (2)
had the severe impairments of attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder and adjustment disorder; but (3) did not have an
impairment or a combination of impairments meeting, medically
equaling, or functionally equaling one of the impairments set
forth in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. R. at 152-64.
The ALJ found that A.L.'s impairments did not
functionally equal a listed impairment because he did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that
resulted in either “marked” limitations in two
out of six domains of functioning or “extreme”
limitation in one domain of functioning. R. at 153-64.
Rather, the ALJ found that he had less than marked
limitations in acquiring and using information and in
attending and completing tasks. R. at 156-59. The ALJ also
found that A.L. had no limitations in interacting and
relating with others, in moving about and manipulating
objects, in the ability to care for himself, and in health
and physical well-being. R. at 159-64. In so finding, the ALJ
gave “significant weight” to the opinions of the
state agency consultants. R. at 156.
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review, Plaintiff filed on August 15, 2017, a complaint in
this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.
Upon the parties' consent, this case was transferred to a
United States Magistrate Judge for final disposition and
entry of judgment. The case then was reassigned to the
undersigned. The parties have briefed the issues, and the
matter is now fully submitted.
Determinations and Burden of Proof
individual under the age of 18 shall be considered disabled
“if that individual 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 which has lasted or can be expected to
last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i);
see 20 C.F.R. § 416.906. To determine whether a
child has a disability within the meaning of the Social
Security Act, the Commissioner follows a three-step
sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. §§
416.924, 416.926a. The first step is a determination whether
the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity.
Id. § 416.924(b). If so, benefits are denied;
if not, the evaluation continues to the next step. The second
step involves a determination whether a claimant's
impairment or combination of impairments is severe, i.e.,
more than a slight abnormality that causes no more than
minimal functional limitations. Id. §
416.924(c). If not, benefits are denied; if so, the
evaluation continues. The third step involves a determination
whether the child has an impairment or impairments that meet,
medically equal, or functionally equal in severity a listed
impairment. Id. § 416.924(d). If so, and if the
duration requirement is met, benefits are awarded; if not,
benefits are denied.
child's functioning is determined by looking at six broad
areas, or ‘domains,' in an attempt to evaluate
‘all of what a child can or cannot do.'”
Woodhouse ex rel. Taylor v. Astrue, 696 F.Supp.2d
521, 527 (D. Md. 2010) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §
416.926a(b)(1)). In the domain of “acquiring and using
information, ” the Commissioner considers how well a
child acquires or learns information, and how well the child
uses the learned information. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(g).
In the domain of “attending and completing tasks,
” the Commissioner considers how well a child is able
to focus and maintain attention and how well the child
begins, carries through, and finishes activities.
Id. § 416.926a(h). In the domain of
“interacting and relating with others, ” the
Commissioner considers how well a child initiates and
sustains emotional connections with others, develops and uses
the language of the child's community, cooperates with
others, complies with rules, responds to criticism, and
respects and takes care of others' possessions.
Id. § 416.926a(i). In the domain of
“moving about and manipulating objects, ”
relating to a child's gross and fine motor skills, the
Commissioner considers how the child moves his or her body
from one place to another and how the child moves and
manipulates things. Id. § 416.926a(j). In the
domain of “caring for yourself, ” the
Commissioner considers how well a child maintains a healthy
emotional and physical state, including how well the child
gets his or her physical and emotional wants and needs met in
appropriate ways, how the child copes with stress and changes
in the environment, and whether the child takes care of his
or her own health, possessions, and living area..
Id. § 416.926a(k).
“functionally equal listing-level severity when they
produce an ‘extreme' limitation in a child
applicant's functioning in one domain or
‘marked' limitations in functioning in two
domains.” Woodhouse, 696 F.Supp.2d at 527
(citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(d)). A “marked”
limitation in a domain is one that “interferes
seriously with [the claimant's] ability to independently
initiate, sustain, or complete activities.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.926a(e)(2)(i). “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.”
Id. An “extreme” limitation in a domain
is one that “interferes very seriously with [the
claimant's] ability to independently initiate, sustain,
or complete activities.” Id. §
416.926a(e)(3)(i). “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.” Id.
Court reviews an ALJ's decision to determine whether the
ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the
factual findings are supported by substantial evidence.
See Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir.
1996). In other words, the issue before the Court “is
not whether [Plaintiff] is disabled, but whether the
ALJ's finding that [Plaintiff] is not disabled is
supported by substantial evidence and was reached based upon
a correct application of the relevant law.”
Id. The Court's review is deferential, as
“[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security
as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall
be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Under this
standard, substantial evidence is less than a preponderance
but is enough that a ...