United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
& FRANKEL, P.A. By: Richard L. Frankel, Esq. Counsel for
SECURITY ADMINISTRATION By: David Leach, Esq., Special
Assistant U.S. Attorney Office of the General Counsel,
Counsel for Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
RENÉE MARIE BUMB, U.S.D.J.
matter comes before the Court upon an appeal filed by
Plaintiff Anthony Patterson (“Plaintiff”) on
behalf of his minor son, E.P. (“Claimant”),
seeking judicial review of the determination denying
Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) benefits. For the reasons set forth
below, the Court vacates the decision of the Administrative
Law Judge (the “ALJ”) and remands for proceedings
consistent with this Opinion.
April 11, 2011, Plaintiff protectively filed an application
for childhood supplemental security income, under Title XVI
of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), on behalf
of Claimant, alleging disability due to delayed speech.
Record of Proceedings (“R.P.”) at 120. The claim
was initially denied on June 27, 2011, and again upon
reconsideration on November 16, 2011. [R.P., p. 142].
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held
before the Honorable Barbara C. Marquardt, ALJ, on July 3,
2013. [R.P., p. 108-119]. On October 22, 2013, the ALJ issued
a decision which found Claimant not disabled under the Act.
[R.P., p. 139-148]. Following the ALJ's decision,
Plaintiff submitted a request for review to the Appeals
Council on January 14, 2014. [R.P., p. 216-17]. The Appeals
Council then remanded the matter to resolve the following
issues: (1) the ALJ's decision failed to explain what
weight, if any, she gave to the medical source opinion of the
State agency pediatric consultant; and (2) the Appeals
Council received additional evidence regarding Claimant's
communication skills. [R.P., 153]. Accordingly, on remand,
the Appeals Council directed the ALJ to offer Claimant an
opportunity for a hearing and issue a new decision after
“[g]iv[ing] further consideration to the non-examining
source opinion” and “[o]btain[ing] additional
evidence concerning the claimant's impairments.”
remand, the Honorable Kenneth Bossong, ALJ, held hearings on
February 11, 2016 and October 6, 2016 during which Claimant
and Plaintiff testified. [R.P., 52-90]. The ALJ then issued a
new opinion on May 16, 2017 finding Claimant not disabled
under the Act. [R.P., 14-33]. The Appeals Council denied
Claimant's request for review on August 1, 2018, and
Plaintiff timely filed a complaint in this Court against the
Commissioner on October 5, 2018.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
social security appeals, the district court must uphold the
Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial
evidence. Allen v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir.
1989). Substantial evidence exists when there is “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)). If
the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial
evidence, then those findings are conclusive. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d
403, 406 (3d Cir. 1979). A district court cannot “weigh
the evidence or substitute its conclusions for those of the
fact-finder.” Williams v. Sullivan, 970 F.2d
1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). Thus, a
district court is bound by the findings of the ALJ that are
supported by substantial evidence, “even if [it] would
have decided the factual inquiry differently.”
Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir.
1999)(citations omitted). To determine if such substantial
evidence exists, the district court must review the record as
a whole. See 5 U.S.C. § 706.
addition to the “substantial evidence” inquiry,
the court must also determine whether the ALJ applied the
correct legal standards. See Sykes v. Apfel, 228
F.3d 259, 262 (3d Cir. 2000); Friedberg v.
Schweiker, 721 F.2d 445, 447 (3d Cir. 1983). The
Court's review of legal issues is plenary.
Sykes, 228 F.3d at 262 (citing Schaudeck v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir.
the Social Security Act, a child under 18 years old is
eligible for SSI if he or she is “disabled, ”
meaning 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). To
determine whether a child is disabled, the regulations
establish a three-step sequential process. See T.C. ex
rel. Z.C. v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 497 Fed.Appx. 158,
160 (3d Cir. 2012)(citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)).
one, the ALJ considers whether the child is engaging in
substantial gainful activity. Id. If so, the child
is not disabled. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step two,
determining whether the child has a medically determinable
severe impairment or combination of impairments. Id.
If not, the child is not disabled. If so, the ALJ proceeds to
step three. Id.
three, the ALJ assesses whether the child has an impairment
or combination of impairments that meets, medically equals,
or functionally equals a listed impairment set forth in 20
C.F.R. § 416.924(d). An impairment or combination of
medical impairments “medically equals” 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). An impairment or combination of
impairments “functionally equals” a listed
impairment if the child has “marked” limitations
in two domains of functioning or an “extreme”
limitation in one domain. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a).
domains of functioning 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)-(vi). A “marked” limitation
exists when it “interferes seriously with [the
child's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or
complete activities, ” and is considered
“‘more than moderate' but ‘less than
extreme.'” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2). An
“extreme” limitation exists when it
“interferes very seriously with [the child's]
ability to independently initiate, sustain, or ...