United States District Court, Western District of Michigan, Southern Division
KEYONTAE OWENS, o.b.o. T.T.O., a Minor, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ELLEN S. CARMODY, United States Magistrate Judge
This is an action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff’s claim that her daughter is entitled to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. On March 6, 2014, the parties agreed to proceed in this Court for all further proceedings, including an order of final judgment. (Dkt. #10). Section 405(g) limits the Court to a review of the administrative record and provides that if the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial evidence it shall be conclusive. The Commissioner has found that Plaintiff’s daughter is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court’s jurisdiction is limited to a review of the Commissioner’s decision and of the record made in the administrative hearing process. See Willbanks v. Sec’y of Health and Human Services, 847 F.2d 301, 303 (6th Cir. 1988). The scope of judicial review in a social security case is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in making his decision, and whether there exists in the record substantial evidence supporting that decision. See Brainard v. Sec’y of Health and Human Services, 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989).
The Court may not conduct a de novo review of the case, resolve evidentiary conflicts, or decide questions of credibility. See Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). It is the Commissioner who is charged with finding the facts relevant to an application for disability benefits, and the Commissioner’s findings are conclusive provided they are supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. See Cohen v. Sec’y of Dep’t of Health and Human Services, 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted). It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347 (6th Cir. 1993). In determining the substantiality of the evidence, the Court must consider the evidence on the record as a whole and take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight. See Richardson v. Sec’y of Health and Human Services, 735 F.2d 962, 963 (6th Cir. 1984).
As has been widely recognized, the substantial evidence standard presupposes the existence of a zone within which the decision maker can properly rule either way, without judicial interference. See Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (citation omitted). The standard affords to the administrative decision maker considerable latitude, and indicates that a decision supported by substantial evidence will not be reversed simply because the evidence would have supported a contrary decision. See Bogle, 998 F.2d at 347; Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545.
Plaintiff’s daughter (T.T.O.) was born on April 15, 1999. (Tr. 101). On December 2, 2008, Plaintiff submitted an application for disability benefits, asserting that her daughter has been disabled since November 6, 2008, due to ADHD, ODD, and reading/math difficulties. (Tr. 101-10, 124). Plaintiff’s application was denied, after which time she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 55-100). On June 28, 2012, ALJ William Reamon conducted an administrative hearing at which T.T.O. testified. (Tr. 27-54). In a written decision dated September 10, 2012, the ALJ determined that T.T.O. was not disabled as defined by the Act. (Tr. 9-22). The Appeals Council declined to review this determination, rendering it the Commissioner’s final decision in the matter. (Tr. 1-8). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this pro se appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
ANALYSIS OF THE ALJ’S DECISION
Federal law provides that an “individual under the age of 18” will be considered disabled if she “has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). To determine whether a child satisfies this standard, the Commissioner must evaluate the claim pursuant to a three-step sequential process. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924.
In the first step, if the ALJ determines that the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity she cannot be found to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b); Elam v. Commissioner of Social Security, 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th Cir. 2003). If the child is not engaged in substantial gainful activity the analysis proceeds to step two, at which point the ALJ must determine whether the child has a severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c); Elam, 348 F.3d at 125. If the ALJ determines that the child suffers from a severe impairment, or combination of impairments, the analysis proceeds to step three, at which point the ALJ must determine whether the impairment(s) “meet, medically equal, or functionally equal” one of the impairments identified in the Listing of Impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d); Elam, 348 F.3d at 125.
After noting that T.T.O. was not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the ALJ proceeded to the second step of the analysis, finding that T.T.O. suffered from the following severe impairments: (1) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; (2) oppositional defiant disorder; and reading/math/written expression disorders. (Tr. 12). At the third step of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that T.T.O.’s impairments do not, individually or in combination, meet or medically equal any impairment identified in the Listing of Impairments detailed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 12). The ALJ further determined that T.T.O.’s impairments do not functionally equal in severity any impairment identified in the Listing of Impairments. (Tr. 12-21).
To determine whether a child claimant suffers from an impairment which is the functional equivalent of a listed impairment, the ALJ must evaluate how the child functions in each of six domains of functioning described as “broad areas of functioning intended to capture all of what a child can or cannot do.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a)-(b). To be considered disabled the child’s impairments must result in “marked” limitations in two domains of ...