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Rodriguez v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 15, 2013

ALTAGRACIA RODRIGUEZ, E.D. A MINOR CHILD, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION

FAITH S. HOCHBERG, District Judge.

I. PRELIMINARY STATEMENT

This matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiff's motion to review a final determination of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner" or "Defendant") pursuant to Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court has reviewed the submissions of the parties and considers the motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78.

This appeal presents two issues: (1) whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's finding that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal a listed impairment; and (2) whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's finding that Plaintiff's impairments do not functionally equal a listed impairment. For the reasons stated below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's findings.

II. STATEMENT OF THE CASE

On December 10, 2007, Altagracia Rodriguez ("Plaintiff"), the Claimant's mother, filed an application for child's SSI[1] benefits on behalf of her 13 year old son, E.D. ("Claimant"). The claim was denied both initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge to review the application, and on February 1, 2010, a hearing was held before ALJ Dennis O'Leary (the "ALJ"). On March 5, 2010, the ALJ decided that Claimant was not disabled because he did not suffer from a medically determinable impairment. Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's March 5th decision, and on September 24, 2010, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for a new hearing. The Appeals Council instructed the ALJ to evaluate the Claimant's impairments to determine whether they were severe individually or in combination and whether they functionally met a listed impairment.

On remand, the ALJ found that Claimant suffered from the following severe impairments: juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, adjustment disorder, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and obesity. However, the ALJ decided that Claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Additionally, the ALJ decided that Claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equals the listings. Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's second decision, but on August 30, 2012, the Appeals Council found no grounds for review.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may review the Commissioner's factual findings only to determine whether they are supported by substantial evidence in the record.[2] This Court "retains a responsibility to scrutinize the entire record and to reverse or remand if the Secretary's decision is not supported by substantial evidence." Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981); see also Reefer v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 376, 379 (3d Cir. 2003). If the record reveals substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision, then the decision must be affirmed, even if this Court would have decided the factual inquiry differently. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999).

IV. DISCUSSION

a. Standard for a Disabled Child's SSI Benefits

The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381, is "[f]or the purpose of establishing a national program to provide supplemental security income to individuals who have attained age 65 or are blind or disabled...."[3] 42 U.S.C. § 1381. The Code of Federal Regulations sets forth a threestep sequential evaluation to determine whether a child is disabled. The three-step process requires Plaintiff to show: (1) that Claimant is not working at a substantially gainful level; (2) that Claimant suffers from a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments; and (3) that Claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meet, medically equal, or functionally equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924.

Under step three, an "impairment is medically equivalent to a listed impairment... if it is at least equal in severity and duration to the criteria of any listed impairment." 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(a). A combination of impairments, where none individually meet one of the listed impairments, will collectively be compared to closely analogous listed impairments. If a combination of impairments is of equal medical significance to a listed impairment, then the impairments are medically equivalent to that listing. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(b)(3).

Step three may also be met if there is functional equivalence for the impairment. The functional equivalence of a child's impairment or combination of impairments is evaluated under six domains. The six domains considered are: acquiring and using information, attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating with others, moving about and manipulating objects, caring for yourself, and health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1). An impairment or combination of impairments functionally equals a listing ...


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