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Stoner v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 13, 2018

MELISSA STONER O/B/O Z.S., a minor child, Plaintiff
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Defendant

          CONNER, C.J.



         This is an action brought under Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying the claims of Plaintiff Melissa Stoner (“Ms. Stoner”) brought on behalf of Z.S., a minor child, (“child”) for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under the Social Security Act. This matter has been referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge to prepare a report recommending disposition, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons expressed herein, the Court recommends that the Commissioner's final decision be AFFIRMED.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         The claimant was born on August 2, 2006, making him a minor, school-aged child at the time of the ALJ's decision. (Admin. Tr. 13; Doc. 10-2 p. 14). At the time of his hearing, the child was on home instruction and had been on home instruction since the end of the previous school year. (Admin. Tr. 54; Doc. 10-2 p. 55). This was the preference of the child's mother, Ms. Stoner, after receiving a letter from the school district indicating it would not be able to continue to allow the child to be in the typical classroom setting. (Id.). The ALJ examined Ms.

         Stoner on her son's trouble at school versus his behavior at home:

Ms. Stoner: At school he doesn't response well, appropriately to adult authority figure. He has a lot of trouble with peer interaction. He's said to have aggressive behaviors and there's been reports of him, you know, throwing a chair or object or something, kicking things, he has a lot of social difficulty and interaction with others [sic].
ALJ: What about at home?
Ms. Stoner: At home, now if he's coming from school to home[, ] there's difficulties of behavior. He needs a lot of redirection but the extent of the behavior to where he just is kicking things and doing things, he does and he has done that depending on what the circumstance[s] may be. If it might be something to his choice or something he doesn't understand or if he's feeling angry or you know, it all depends on what's really going on and what sets the mood with him.

(Admin. Tr. 55: Doc. 10-2 p. 56). Ms. Stoner further testified that the child was not undergoing any treatment or on any medication. (Admin. Tr. 55-56; Doc. 10-2 pp. 56-57).

         The ALJ asked Ms. Stoner about the child's interaction and relation with the teacher authority figure who comes into his home to provide him instruction. (Admin. Tr. 56; Doc. 10-2 p. 57). Ms. Stone testified that the interaction and relation is “[m]uch different than that of what it is inside of school. . . he seems to do much better [behaviorally] . . . .” (Id.).

         The child has a sister, with whom he has a healthy relationship and behaves normally towards. (Admin. Tr. 57-58; Doc. 10-2 pp. 58-59). The child also has friends in the neighborhood, and enjoys spending time and playing with them. (Admin. Tr. 58; Doc. 10-2 p. 59). According to his mother, the child loves to play sports and video games and has always been very active. (Admin. Tr. 57; Doc. 10-2 p. 58). She also testified that the child has no problem taking care of his personal needs such as hygiene or completing his chores around the house (such as cleaning his room and being responsible for his dog). (Admin. Tr. 58-59; Doc. 10-2 pp. 59-60).

         On March 22, 2013, an application for supplemental security income was filed on behalf of the child. (Admin. Tr. 10; Doc. 10-2 p. 11). It alleged a disability onset date of October 1, 2011. (Id.). It claimed attention deficit hyperactive disorder (“ADHD”) and oppositional defiance disorder (“ODD”) as the child's disabling conditions. (Admin. Tr. 119; Doc. 10-6 p. 18).

         The claim was initially denied on July 16, 2013. (Admin. Tr. 10; Doc. 10-2 p. 11). On November 21, 2014, ALJ Jarrod Tranguch held a hearing on the claim. (Id.). The child, his mother, and their attorney appeared via video feed. (Id.).

         On March 2, 2015, the ALJ issued an opinion finding the child was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Admin. Tr. 10-24; Doc. 10-2 pp. 11-25). The ALJ followed the three-step analysis for disability claims regarding a minor under the Social Security Act. (Id.).

         At Step One, the ALJ found the child was not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application filing date. (Admin. Tr. 13; Doc. 10-2 p. 14). At Step Two, the ALJ found the child had two severe impairments: (1) ADHD; and, (2) ODD. (Id.). At Step Thee, the ALJ determined that the child did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically or functionally equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Id.). In determining the child did not functionally meet a listing, the ALJ analyzed six domains (discussed below) and found him to have less than marked limitations in four of them and no limitation in two of them. (Admin. Tr. 13-24; Doc. 10-2 pp. 14-25). (Admin. Tr. 32-35; Doc. 11-2 pp. 33-36).

         On August 17, 2016, the agency Appeals Council denied Ms. Stoner's request for review. (Admin. Tr. 1; Doc. 10-2 p.2). On, October 19, 2016, Ms. Stoner filed a civil action with this Court seeking review. (Complaint, Doc. 1 pp. 1-2).

         II. Standard of Review

         A claimant under the age of 18 (“minor”) shall be considered disabled for under Title XVI of the Social Security Act 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 for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(I); 20 C.F.R. §416.906. Notwithstanding the above, no minor who engages in substantial gainful activity, as defined by the Social Security regulations, may be found disabled. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(ii); 20 C.F.R. §416.906.

         The ALJ employs a three-step evaluation process to determine whether a minor is eligible for SSI payments by reason of disability. If the ALJ finds that the minor is not disabled at any point in the sequence, review will not proceed any further. See20 C.F.R. § 416.924. As part of this analysis the ALJ must sequentially determine: (1) whether the minor is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the minor has a medically determinable, severe impairment; (3) whether the minor's impairment or combination of impairments meets, medically equals, or functionally equals an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See20 C.F.R. § 416.924.

         In determining functional equivalence, the ALJ evaluates the following six domains of functioning: (1) acquiring and using information; (2) attending to and completing tasks; (3) interacting and relating with others; (4) moving about and manipulating objects; (5) ability to care for oneself; and, (6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)(i)-(vi). An impairment is functionally equal to a listed impairment when it results in “marked” limitations in two domains of functioning or an “extreme” limitation in one domain. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). A marked limitation is more than moderate but less than extreme. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(ii). An impairment that only meets some of the criteria of a ...

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