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Ayala v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 30, 2018

WENDY AYALA, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Elizabeth A. Stafford Judge

          OPINION AND ORDER ACCEPTING THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S RECOMMENDATION [29], DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [19], AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [26]

          LAURIE J. MICHELSON U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         MBS was born about two months early. Due to medical conditions associated with his prematurity, he stayed in the hospital for about two months. Shortly after MBS got home, he experienced problems with breathing and digesting food.

         Around this time, MBS's mother applied-on MBS's behalf-for supplemental-security income on the basis that MBS was disabled under the Social Security Act. In August 2015, when MBS was 24 months old, an administrative law judge issued a lengthy opinion finding that MBS was not disabled under the Social Security Act from birth through the time of his decision. When further administrative review was denied, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.

         Wendy Ayala, MBS's grandmother and guardian, appealed to federal court. All pretrial matters were referred to Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford. The Magistrate Judge has recommended that this Court affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

         Ayala objects to that recommendation. Having considered anew the issues raised by her objections, see 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3), the Court will overrule Ayala's objections and affirm the Commissioner's disability determination.

         I.

         For a child to be found “disabled” under the Social Security Act, the child's impairments must meet, medically equal, or functionally equal one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, or, in Social Security parlance, the “listings.” See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924.

         Ayala does not take issue with the ALJ's finding that MBS's impairments neither met nor medically equaled a listing. Ayala instead attacks the ALJ's finding that MBS's impairments did not functionally equal a listed impairment.

         To functionally equal a listing, a child must either have “marked” limitation in two, or an “extreme” limitation in one, of the following six domains: (1) acquiring and using information, (2) attending and completing tasks, (3) interacting and relating with others, (4) moving about and manipulating objects, (5) self-care, and (6) health and physical well-being. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(d).

         The ALJ found that MBS had no limitation or less-than-marked limitation in all six domains. (See R. 23, PID 1179-93.) As most relevant here, the ALJ found that MBS had “no limitation in interacting and relating to others” and “less than marked limitation in health and physical well-being.” (R. 23, PID 1189, 1193.)

         The heart of Ayala's appeal (and her objections) is that the ALJ erred in rating these two domains. She claims that MBS had “extreme, ” or at least “marked, ” limitation in the domain of interacting and relating with others. (See R. 19, PID 1143-47; R. 30, PID 2304-07.) She makes a similar claim about the domain of health and physical well-being. (See R. 19, PID 1138-43; R. 30, PID 2303-04.) The Court starts with Ayala's first claim.

         A.

         The interacting-and-relating-with-others domain required the ALJ to consider, among other things, how well MBS “initiat[ed] and respond[ed] to exchanges with other people, for practical or social purposes” and how well MBS related to others by “forming intimate relationships with family members and with friends [his] age, and sustaining them over time.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.926a(i)(1)(i), (i)(1)(ii).[1] Thus, difficulty with nonverbal or verbal ...


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