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Jackson v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

February 2, 2017

LADELL JACKSON, on behalf of her minor daughter, “A.H.”


          Donetta W. Ambrose Senior Judge, U.S. District Court

         On behalf of her minor child (“Plaintiff'), who was born on September 25, 2012, Ms. Jackson filed a protective application for child supplemental social security benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, alleging disability due to various impairments related to a genetic defect from birth, including microcephaly, and atrial septal defect. Plaintiff's application was denied initially, and upon hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The Appeals Council denied her request for review. Before the Court are the parties' cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion will be granted, and Defendant's denied. This matter will be remanded for further proceedings.



         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decisions on disability claims is provided by statute. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) 6 and 1383(c)(3) 7. Section 405(g) permits a district court to review the transcripts and records upon which a determination of the Commissioner is based, and the court will review the record as a whole. See 5 U.S.C. §706. When reviewing a decision, the district court's role is limited to determining whether the record contains substantial evidence to support an ALJ's findings of fact. Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate" to support a conclusion. Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)). If the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson, 402 U.S. at 390.

         A district court cannot conduct a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision, or re-weigh the evidence of record; the court can only judge the propriety of the decision with reference to the grounds invoked by the Commissioner when the decision was rendered. Palmer v. Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998); S.E.C. v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194, 196 - 97, 67 S.Ct. 1575, 91 L.Ed. 1995 (1947). Otherwise stated, “I may not weigh the evidence or substitute my own conclusion for that of the ALJ. I must defer to the ALJ's evaluation of evidence, assessment of the credibility of witnesses, and reconciliation of conflicting expert opinions. If the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, I am bound by those findings, even if I would have decided the factual inquiry differently.” Brunson v. Astrue, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55457 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 14, 2011) (citations omitted). Nonetheless, I am not required to read the ALJ's opinion “in a vacuum.” Knox v. Astrue, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28978, at *22 (W.D. Pa. May 26, 2010).


         Childhood disability is evaluated under a three-step sequential process, which requires consideration of whether the child has a medically determinable severe impairment or combination of impairments, and whether the child's impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals the severity of a Listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. Listing 100.05 requires, in addition to growth failure, as follows:

         Developmental delay (see 100.00C1 and C3), established by an acceptable medical source and documented by findings from one current report of a standardized developmental assessment (see 100.00C3b) that:

1. Shows development not more than two-thirds of the level typically expected for the child's age; or
2. Results in a valid score that is at least two standard deviations below the mean.

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in not considering Listing 100.05. Plaintiff argues that Plaintiff's weight ranged from the 1st to 3rd percentile, and that the opinion of Dr. Saladino, a treating physician, demonstrates developmental delays. Essentially, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ should have considered the Listing, and seeks remand for such consideration. In turn, Defendant argues that the ALJ gave little weight to Dr. Saladino's Medical Source Statement, and adequately discussed why Plaintiff's developmental delays were not disabling. In particular, Defendant observes, Dr. Saladino's opinion was discounted based on physical therapy notes and a neurological evaluation conducted by Dr. Rajan on April 28, 2014. Accordingly, Defendant contends, the ALJ need not have considered Listing 100.05.

         On January 28, 2014, Dr. Saladino, Plaintiff's pediatrician, noted that Plaintiff suffers from chromosome deletion, onset at birth. She observed, inter alia, failure to thrive, microcephaly, and developmental delay. She also noted marked and moderate impairments in various domains of functioning, including acquiring and using information, attending and completing tasks, and interacting and relating with others. In turn, the form that Dr. Saladino used defined “marked” limitations is functioning at a level that is more than half, but not more than 2/3, of the child's chronological age. The ALJ afforded the opinion little weight, as “not supported by the overall evidence, such as therapy notes and neurology evaluation.”

         The therapy notes referred to were completed on August 30, 2013, noting that Plaintiff achieved all therapy goals, and no longer required physical therapy services at that time. Dr. Rajan's neurology evaluation, in turn, resulted from a single visit a year later, on April 28, 2014. Dr. Rajan noted that Plaintiff “seems to be developmentally appropriate for age [19 months], ” because she could walk, run, and say “mama” and “dada.” However, he also discussed with the family neurological abnormalities associated with Plaintiff's genetic condition, which “can include” developmental delay and learning disabilities. He further noted that Plaintiff had been receiving ...

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