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Sollars v. Astrue

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

October 25, 2013

TAMMY SOLLARS, o/b/o R.T.S., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Sam A. Crow, U.S. District Senior Judge

This is an action reviewing the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Tammy Sollars supplemental security income payments for her child R.T.S. (hereinafter referred to as “plaintiff”). The matter has been fully briefed by the parties.

I. General legal standards

The court's standard of review is set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides that "the findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." The court should review the Commissioner's decision to determine only whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Glenn v. Shalala, 21 F.3d 983, 984 (10th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance, and is satisfied by such evidence that a reasonable mind might accept to support the conclusion. The determination of whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision is not simply a quantitative exercise, for evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence or if it really constitutes mere conclusion. Ray v. Bowen, 865 F.2d 222, 224 (10th Cir. 1989). Although the court is not to reweigh the evidence, the findings of the Commissioner will not be mechanically accepted. Nor will the findings be affirmed by isolating facts and labeling them substantial evidence, as the court must scrutinize the entire record in determining whether the Commissioner's conclusions are rational. Graham v. Sullivan, 794 F.Supp. 1045, 1047 (D. Kan. 1992). The court should examine the record as a whole, including whatever in the record fairly detracts from the weight of the Commissioner's decision and, on that basis, determine if the substantiality of the evidence test has been met. Glenn, 21 F.3d at 984.

II. Legal standards for child disability

The ALJ is required to apply a three-step analysis when making a determination of whether a child is disabled. In order to find that a child is disabled, the ALJ must determine, in this order, (1) that the child is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, (2) that the child has an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe, and (3) that the child’s impairment meets, medically equals, or functionally equals a listed impairment. Briggs v. Massanari, 248 F.3d 1235, 1237 (10th Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a) (2012 at 858).

If a child has a severe impairment which does not meet or medically equal any listing, the ALJ must decide whether the severe impairment results in limitations that functionally equal the listings. By “functionally equal the listings, ” the agency means that the severe impairment must be of listing level severity, i.e., it must result in marked limitations in two domains of functioning or an extreme limitation in one domain. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). The six domains to be considered are: (1) acquiring and using information, (2) attending and completing tasks, (3) interacting and relating with others, (4) moving about and manipulating objects, (5) caring for yourself, and (6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1).

III. History of case

On December 23, 2009, administrative law judge (ALJ) Mark R. Dawson issued the 1st ALJ decision, finding that plaintiff was not disabled (R. at 87-99). On October 27, 2010, the Appeals Council remanded the case back to the ALJ for further hearing (R. at 105-108).

On April 7, 2011, ALJ Guy E. Taylor issued a 2nd ALJ decision (R. at 10-23). Plaintiff was born On June 11, 2001 (R. at 13). Tammy Sollars filed her application on behalf of her son on September 12, 2007 (R. at 13). Plaintiff alleges disability since August 1, 2006 (R. at 10). At step one, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date (R. at 13). At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff has the following severe impairment: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (R. at 13). At step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff’s impairment does not medically meet, equal or functionally equal a listed impairment (R. at 13-23). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been disabled since September 12, 2007, the application date (R. at 23).

III. Did the ALJ err in his consideration of the assessments of plaintiff’s teacher and counselor?

As set forth above, in order for an impairment to functionally equal a listing, it must result in marked limitations in two domains of functioning or an extreme limitation in one domain. The six domains of functioning and the ALJ’s finding for each domain are set forth below:

Domain of functioning

finding of ALJ

acquiring and using information

less than marked limitation

attending and completing tasks

marked limitation

interacting and relating with others

less than marked limitation

moving about and manipulating objects

no limitation

caring for yourself

less than marked limitation

health and physical well-being (R. at 16-23).

no limitation


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