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Landrum v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

December 11, 2017

MICHELLE MARIE LANDRUM, on behalf of L.M.P., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          BERNARD A. FRIEDMAN, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is presently before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment [docket entries 14 and 15]. Pursuant to E.D. Mich. 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall decide these motions without a hearing. For the reasons stated below, the Court shall deny plaintiff's motion and grant defendant's motion.

         Plaintiff has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to challenge defendant's final decision denying the application she filed on behalf of her minor daughter, “L.M.P., ” for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing in September 2015 (Tr. 14-38) and issued a decision denying benefits the same month (Tr. 78-93). This became defendant's final decision in February 2017 when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-3).

         Under § 405(g), the issue before the Court is whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence, which is defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Consol. Edison Co. v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). In making this determination the Court does not review the record de novo, and it may not weigh the evidence or make credibility findings. If supported by substantial evidence, defendant's decision must be upheld even if substantial evidence may support a contrary decision and even if the Court may have decided the case differently in the first instance. See Engebrecht v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 572 F. App'x 392, 396 (6th Cir. 2014).

         At the time of the ALJ's decision, L.M.P. was ten years and ten months old and she was in the fifth grade in school (Tr. 18, 84). Plaintiff claims that L.M.P. has been disabled since March 15, 2012, due to a learning disability (Tr. 81, 248). The ALJ found that L.M.P.'s learning disability is a severe impairment (Tr. 84), but that she is not disabled under the Social Security Act because this impairment is not severe enough to meet or equal a listed impairment, as required by 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d) (stating that for children seeking SSI benefits, “[y]our impairment(s) must meet, medically equal, or functionally equal the listings.”).

         Having carefully reviewed the administrative record, the parties' briefs, and the applicable law, the Court concludes that the ALJ's decision in this matter is supported by substantial evidence. While L.M.P. clearly has a learning disability that affects her ability to read, the ALJ reasonably concluded that this impairment is not sufficiently severe to meet or equal any of the listings.

         There is no childhood listing that covers learning disabilities specifically. Nonetheless, a child with a learning disability qualifies as disabled if she has “marked and severe functional limitations.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C). Under 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1), the extent of a child's functional limitations is determined by assessing her functioning in the following six “domains”: (i) acquiring and using information, (ii) attending and completing tasks, (iii) interacting and relating with others, (iv) moving about and manipulating objects, (v) caring for yourself, and (vi) health and physical well-being.

         To be deemed disabled, the child must have a “marked” limitation in at least two of these domains or an “extreme” limitation in one domain. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). The regulations define the terms “marked” and “extreme” limitation as follows:

(2) Marked limitation.
(i) We will find that you have a “marked” limitation in a domain when your impairment(s) interferes seriously with your ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. Your day-to-day functioning may be seriously limited when your impairment(s) limits only one activity or when the interactive and cumulative effects of your impairment(s) limit several activities. “Marked” limitation also means a limitation that is “more than moderate” but “less than extreme.” It is the equivalent of the functioning we would expect to find on standardized testing with scores that are at least two, but less than three, standard deviations below the mean.[1]
* * *
(3) Extreme limitation.
(i) We will find that you have an “extreme” limitation in a domain when your impairment(s) interferes very seriously with your ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. Your day-to-day functioning may be very seriously limited when your impairment(s) limits only one activity or when the interactive and cumulative effects of your impairment(s) limit several activities. “Extreme” limitation also means a limitation that is “more than marked.” “Extreme” limitation is the rating we give to the worst limitations. However, “extreme limitation” does not necessarily mean a total lack or loss of ability to function. It is the equivalent of the functioning we would expect to find on standardized testing with scores that are at least three standard deviations below the mean.

20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e).

         In the present case, the ALJ found that L.M.P. has “less than marked limitation” in the first domain (acquiring and using information) and no limitation in the other domains (Tr. 88-93). Plaintiff appears to concede that the only domain in which L.M.P. is limited is the first. She does not challenge the ALJ's finding that L.M.P. has no limitation in domains two through six. Therefore, the narrow issue before the Court is whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that the degree of L.M.P.'s limitation in this domain is “less than marked.” In fact, as L.M.P. is limited in only one domain, to prove she is disabled plaintiff must show that the limitation in this domain is extreme. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a).

         The following regulation explains what is meant by a child's ability ...


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