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Dusch v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 20, 2015

BONNIE ROSELYNN DUSCH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER OF COURT

DONETTA W. AMBROSE, Senior District Judge.

SYNOPSIS

An application for supplemental security income ("SSI") was protectively filed on behalf of Bonnie Roselynn Dusch ("Dusch") on April 13, 2011. The application was based upon reflex neurovascular dystrophy ("RND") with an onset date of February 1, 2011. Her claim was denied and a Request for Hearing was filed. Dusch testified at a subsequent hearing, as did an impartial vocational expert. The ALJ determined that Dusch's application needed to be reviewed pursuant to both the childhood and adult standards of disability because Dusch had reached the age of majority during the processing of the application. Following the hearing, the ALJ denied her claim under both standards. The Appeals Council denied her request for review. Dusch then filed this appeal under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

Before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. [8] and [10]). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions. (Docket Nos. [9] and [11]). After careful consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on my Opinion set forth below, I am granting the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and denying the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Dusch was born on June 14, 1994, making her an "adolescent" (those ages 12 to 18) on April 13, 2011, the date the application was filed. (R. 19) She turned 18 on June 3, 2012, before the ALJ rendered her opinion. (R. 19) At the time of the hearing Dusch lived with her mother, stepfather, brother and other extended family members. (R. 36) She had just completed 11th grade. (R. 36) While in school, Dusch participated in the Pittsburgh Scholars Program and took some advanced classes. (R. 37) Dusch testified that she struggled with the classes at times because of missing school. (R. 37-38) She missed 51 out of 182 days of school during the academic year. (R. 38)

As stated above, the ALJ denied Dusch's request for benefits. Specifically, the ALJ determined that although Dusch's RND condition is "severe, " as defined by the Act, its severity did not meet the requirements set forth in the Listings nor the functional equivalency of the Listings. The ALJ also concluded that Dusch was not entitled to Adult SSI because she remained capable of performing sedentary work such as that performed by a telephone solicitor, a telephone clerk and a ticket seller. (R. 27-28) Dusch now appeals.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A) Standard of Review

The standard of review in social security cases is whether substantial evidence exists in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. Allen v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence has been defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate." Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995), quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Additionally, the Commissioner's findings of fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir. 1979). A district court cannot conduct a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision or re-weigh the evidence of record. Palmer v. Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998). Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, a court is bound by those findings, even if the court would have decided the factual inquiry differently. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). To determine whether a finding is supported by substantial evidence, however, the district court must review the record as a whole. See 5 U.S.C. §706.

The Social Security Act provides that a child under 18 is "disabled" for purposes of SSI eligibility if he or she "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). That said, no individual under the age of 18 will be considered disabled if he or she engages in substantial gainful activity. The Commissioner follows a three-step sequential process in determining childhood disability: (1) whether the child is doing substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether he has a medically determinable severe impairment; (3) if so, whether the child's severe impairment meets, medically equals, or functionally equals the severity of a set of criteria for an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d), 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. An impairment functionally equals a listed impairment if the child has "marked" limitations[1] in two domains of functioning or an "extreme" limitation[2] in one domain. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(a). The six domains 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. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)(i)-(iv). When evaluating the ability to function in each domain, the ALJ considers the following: whether the impairment(s) affect the claimant's functioning and whether the claimant's activities are typical of other children of the same age who do not have impairments; the activities that the claimant is able to perform; activities that the claimant is unable to perform; which of the claimant's activities are limited or restricted compared to other children of the same age who do not have impairments; where the claimant has difficulty independently initiating, sustaining, or completing activities; and what kind of help the claimant needs in order to do activities, including how much and how often help is needed. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(2)(i)-(vi).

To be eligible for social security benefits as an adult, the plaintiff must demonstrate that he or she cannot engage in substantial gainful activity because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A); Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir. 1986). The Commissioner has provided the ALJ with a five-step sequential analysis to use when evaluating the disabled status of each claimant. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a). The ALJ must determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has a severe impairment, whether it meets or equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R., pt. 404, subpt. P., appx. 1; (4) if the impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings, whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from performing his past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is incapable of performing his past relevant work, whether he can perform any other work which exists in the national economy, in light of his age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. The claimant carries the initial burden of demonstrating by medical evidence that he is unable to return to his previous employment (steps 1-4). Dobrowolsky, 606 F.2d at 406. Once the claimant meets this burden, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can engage in alternative substantial gainful activity (step 5). Id.

B) Discussion

(1) Childhood Standard of ...


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