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Allen v. Astrue

September 21, 2010

GRACE ALLEN ON BEHALF OF LLAA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



ORDER

This social security action was submitted to the court without oral argument for ruling on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, plaintiff's motion is denied, defendant's cross-motion is granted, and the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) is affirmed.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On December 8, 2006, plaintiff Grace Allen applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) child's disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act) for her then sixteen-month-old daughter, whose initials are LLAA. (Transcript (Tr.) at 70-72.) Plaintiff alleged that LLAA, who was born on July 19, 2005, had been disabled by asthma since August 16, 2005. (Tr. at 31, 32, 33, 38, 70, 87.) The application for disability benefits was denied initially on March 20, 2007, and upon reconsideration on June 27, 2007. (Tr. at 33, 38.) On November 5, 2008, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") held a hearing at which plaintiff Grace Allen, represented by counsel, testified. (Tr. at 21-30.) In a decision dated February 24, 2009, the ALJ determined that LLAA was not disabled. (Tr. at 7-19.) The ALJ entered the following findings:

1. The claimant was born on July 19, 2005. Therefore, she was an older infant on December 8, 2006, the date the application was filed, and is currently an older infant (20 CFR 416.926a(g)(2)).

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity at any time relevant to this decision (20 CFR 416.924(b) and 416.972).

3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: asthma, developmental delay, and poor hearing (20 CFR 416.924(c)).

4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.924, 416.925 and 416.926).

5. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equals the listings (20 CFR 416.924(d) and 416.926a).

6. The claimant has not been disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act, since December 8, 2006, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.924(a)). (Tr. at 13-18.) On May 21, 2009, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 2-4.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on June 12, 2009.

LEGAL STANDARDS

The Commissioner's decision that a claimant is not disabled will be upheld if the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and the proper legal standards were applied. Schneider v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 223 F.3d 968, 973 (9th Cir. 2000); Morgan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). The findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. See Miller v. Heckler, 770 F.2d 845, 847 (9th Cir. 1985). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Morgan, 169 F.3d at 599); Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).

A reviewing court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Jones, 760 F.2d at 995. The court may not affirm the ALJ's decision simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Id.; see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). If substantial evidence supports the administrative findings, or if there is conflicting evidence supporting a finding of either disability or non-disability, the finding of the ALJ is conclusive, Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-30 (9th Cir. 1987), and may be set aside only if an improper legal standard was applied in weighing the evidence, Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1338 (9th Cir. 1988).

In determining whether or not a child is disabled for purposes of the SSI program, the ALJ should apply the three-step sequential evaluation process established under Title 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations, § 416.924. This evaluation process was developed after the statutory definition of childhood disability and the standard for determining whether a child is eligible for disability benefits were altered in 1996 by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, Pub. L. No. 104-193, § 211, 110 Stat. 2105 (1996). See Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart, 341 F.3d 1006, 1013 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing legislative history indicating that the change in the law was designed so that only needy children with severe disabilities will be eligible for SSI); Jamerson v. Chater, 112 F.3d 1064, 1065, 1067-68 (9th Cir. 1997) (recognizing the more stringent standard for finding a child disabled imposed by the 1996 legislation).

A child, defined as "[a]n individual under the age of 18," is disabled for purposes of the SSI program if the child "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). The three-step evaluation process requires the ALJ to determine (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, (2) whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments that is severe, and (3) whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals the requirements of a listed impairment, or functionally equals the listings. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b)-(d). See Nesmith ex rel. A.S. ...


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