United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
E. Schwab, Chief United States Magistrate Judge
a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Michelle Milevoi seeks judicial review
of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
denying her minor daughter's claim for supplemental
security income benefits. Because the Commissioner's
decision is not supported by substantial evidence, we
recommend that the court vacate the Commissioner's
decision and remand the case to the Commissioner.
Background and Procedural History.
refer to the transcript provided by the Commissioner. See
docs. 8-1 to 8-13. On March 24, 2015, Ms.
Milevoi protectively applied for supplemental security income
benefits on behalf of her minor daughter M.E.M., alleging
that M.E.M. has been disabled since July 1, 2014. Admin.
Tr. at 121, 145-54. After the Commissioner denied the
claim at the initial level of administrative review, Ms.
Milevoi requested an administrative hearing. Id. at
125, 129-31. On July 20, 2017, Ms. Milevoi with the
assistance of counsel, testified at a hearing before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Edward Brady.
Id. at 87-112.
determined that M.E.M. has not been disabled since March 24,
2015, the date of her application, and so he denied her
benefits. Id. at 65. Ms. Milevoi appealed the
ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied her
request for review on September 18, 2018. Id. at
1-6. This makes the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner subject to judicial review by this court.
November of 2018, Ms. Milevoi began this action by filing a
complaint claiming that the ALJ's decision “is not
in supported by substantial evidence” and
“contains errors of law.” Doc. 1 at
¶¶ 14-15. She requests that the court reverse the
Commissioner's decision and award her benefits or, in the
alternative, remand the case to the Commissioner for a new
hearing. Id. at § V. The Commissioner filed an
answer and a certified transcript of the administrative
proceedings. Docs. 7, 8. The parties have filed
briefs, and this matter is ripe for decision. Docs. 15,
Substantial Evidence Review-the Role of This Court.
reviewing the Commissioner's final decision denying a
claimant's application for benefits, “the court has
plenary review of all legal issues decided by the
Commissioner.” Ficca v. Astrue, 901 F.Supp.2d
533, 536 (M.D. Pa. 2012). But the court's review of the
Commissioner's factual findings is limited to whether
substantial evidence supports those findings. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(g); Biestek v. Berryhill, 139
S.Ct. 1148, 1152 (2019). “[T]he threshold for such
evidentiary sufficiency is not high.” Biestek,
139 S.Ct. at 1154. Substantial evidence “means-and
means only-‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'”
Id. (quoting Consol. Edison Co. of New York v.
N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).
evidence “is less than a preponderance of the evidence
but more than a mere scintilla.” Jesurum v.
Sec'y of U.S. Dep't of Health & Human
Servs., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995). A single piece
of evidence is not substantial evidence if the ALJ ignores
countervailing evidence or fails to resolve a conflict
created by the evidence. Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d
1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1993). But in an adequately developed
factual record, substantial evidence may be “something
less than the weight of the evidence, and the possibility of
drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does
not prevent [the ALJ's] finding from being supported by
substantial evidence.” Consolo v. Fed. Maritime
Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966). “In
determining if the Commissioner's decision is supported
by substantial evidence the court must scrutinize the record
as a whole.” Leslie v. Barnhart, 304 F.Supp.2d
623, 627 (M.D. Pa. 2003).
question before this court, therefore, is not whether M.E.M.
is disabled, but whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's finding that she is not disabled and
whether the Commissioner correctly applied the relevant law.
Initial Burdens of Proof, Persuasion, and
receive supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI of
the Social Security Act, a claimant under the age of eighteen
must demonstrate that 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); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 416.906. The ALJ follows a
three-step sequential-evaluation process to determine whether
a child claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.924. Under this process, the ALJ must sequentially
determine: (1) whether the child is engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the child has an
impairment or combination of impairments that is severe; and
(3) if so, whether the child's severe impairment (or
combination of impairments) meets, medically equals, or
functionally equals one of the disability listings.
analysis proceeds to step three, the ALJ must determine
whether a child's impairment meets, medically equals, or
functionally equals a disability listing. Id.
Whether a child's impairment functionally equals a
disability listing is analyzed in terms of six domains of
functioning. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b). “These
domains are broad areas of functioning intended to capture
all of what a child can or cannot do.” 20 C.F.R. §
416.926a(b)(1). 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 wellbeing. Id. When determining whether
an impairment is functionally equivalent to ...