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Trayvaughan P. v. Astrue

August 14, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge



Plaintiff is a minor proceeding through his guardian ad litem, Nicole P., in forma pauperis and with counsel with an action seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying an application filed with a protective filing date of August 30, 2005, on behalf of Plaintiff, for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in which Plaintiff had claimed to have been disabled due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and asthma. (A.R. 14, 75-78.) The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1), and pursuant to the order of Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill filed December 8, 2008, the matter has been assigned to the Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings in this case, including entry of final judgment.

The decision under review is that of Social Security Administration (SSA) Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) James P. Berry, dated April 25, 2008 (A.R. 14-20), rendered after a video-conference hearing held February 20, 2008, at which Plaintiff and his mother appeared and testified, all with the assistance of counsel. (A.R. 14, 413-30.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 19, 2008 (A.R. 5-7), and thereafter Plaintiff filed his complaint in this Court on November 14, 2008. Briefing commenced on April 20, 2009, and was completed with the filing of Plaintiff's reply on July 8, 2009. The matter has been submitted without oral argument to the undersigned Magistrate Judge.

I. Standard and Scope of Review

Congress has provided a limited scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits under the Act. In reviewing findings of fact with respect to such determinations, the Court must determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla," Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 402 (1971), but less than a preponderance, Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119, n. 10 (9th Cir. 1975). It is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. The Court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion; it may not simply isolate a portion of evidence that supports the decision. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006); Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985).

It is immaterial that the evidence would support a finding contrary to that reached by the Commissioner; the determination of the Commissioner as to a factual matter will stand if supported by substantial evidence because it is the Commissioner's job, and not the Court's, to resolve conflicts in the evidence. Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 (9th Cir. 1975).

In weighing the evidence and making findings, the Commissioner must apply the proper legal standards. Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1338 (9th Cir. 1988). This Court must review the whole record and uphold the Commissioner's determination that the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards, and if the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. See, Sanchez v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 812 F.2d 509, 510 (9th Cir. 1987); Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d at 995. If the Court concludes that the ALJ did not use the proper legal standard, the matter will be remanded to permit application of the appropriate standard. Cooper v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 557, 561 (9th Cir. 1987).

II. Entitlement to SSI as a Child

A. Legal Standards

1. Disability Analysis

With respect to SSI, an individual under the age of eighteen shall be considered disabled if that individual 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 twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). To determine disability for children, the analysis requires determining 1) if the child is performing substantial gainful activity; 2) if not, then whether the child has an impairment or combination thereof that is severe; 3) if so, then whether an impairment or combination thereof meets, medically equals, or functionally equals a listed impairment and is of sufficient duration. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a).

2. Analysis of Functionality

In evaluating functioning, the agency considers information from medical and non-medical sources, and it evaluates any factors that are relevant to how the claimant functions. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924a(b). The effects of medications are considered. § 416.924a(b)(9). A claimant's functioning is compared to the typical functioning of children the claimant's age who do not have impairments. § 416.926a(f). The broad areas of functioning, or domains, considered include acquiring and using information, attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating with others, moving about and manipulating objects, caring for oneself, and health and physical well-being. § 416.926a(b)(1).

An impairment causes marked and severe functional limitations if it meets or medically equals the severity of a set of criteria for an impairment in the listings, or if it functionally equals the listing. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d). Listing level severity generally means the level of severity described in 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a), that is, "marked" limitations in two domains of functioning, or an "extreme" limitation in one domain. § 416.925(b)(2)(ii). A limitation in a domain is marked, which is greater than moderate and less than extreme, if the impairment interferes seriously with one's ability independently to initiate, sustain, or complete activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e). A limitation is extreme if the impairment interferes very seriously with the claimant's ability independently to initiate, sustain, or complete activities, and which is more than "marked", and is the rating given to the worst limitations, although it does not necessarily mean a total lack or loss of ability to function. Id. Activities are everything one does at home, at school, and in the community. § 416.926a.

In assessing functionality, the SSA considers the whole child and the inter-relationship of multiple impairments and limitations on all activities. Soc. Sec. Ruling 09-1p. To determine whether there is a "marked" or an "extreme" limitation in a domain, consideration is given to how many of the child's activities in the domain are limited, the importance of the limited activities to the child's age-appropriate functioning, the frequency of the activities and of limitation on the activities, the location and settings in which the limitations occur, and the factors involved in the limited activities, such as support from people, medications, structure in supportive settings, etc. Soc. Sec. Ruling 09-1p, Pt. III(B). The effects of an impairment longitudinally is considered; the judgment about whether there is a "marked" or "extreme" limitation of a domain depends on the importance and frequency of the limited activities and the relative weight of the other pertinent considerations. Id.

3. Domain of Interacting with and Relating to Others

With respect to the domain of interacting and relating with others, the SSA considers how well one interacts (initiates and responds to exchanges with others for practical or social purposes), relates to (forms and sustains over time intimate relationships with family, friends, and neighbors and classmates), and responds to others. Cooperation with others, compliance with rules, responses to criticism, and respect and taking care of the possessions of others are considered. Responsiveness requires response to others' emotional and behavioral cues, feelings, and ...

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