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Miranda v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 4, 2017

GRIZEL I. MIRANDA o/b/o J.A.F.
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

          RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS

          HOLLY B. FITZSIMMONS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Grizel I. Miranda (“Miranda”) brings this action on behalf or her son, J.A.F., pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security which denied her claims for Supplemental Social Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, (“the Act”). Plaintiff has moved to reverse the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision and declare the claimant disabled. The Commissioner has moved to affirm.

         For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's Motion for Reversal of Commissioner's Decision [Doc. #30] is DENIED. Defendant's Motion for an Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner [Doc. #31] is GRANTED.

         I. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         The procedural history of this case is not disputed. Plaintiff filed an application on behalf of her minor son for SSI on August 10, 2012, with an alleged disability onset date of July 16, 2012. [Certified Transcript of the Record, Compiled on July 29, 2016, Doc. #25 (hereinafter “Tr.”) 10; 197]. Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. [Tr. 10, 72, 79, 91].

         On November 4, 2014, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared before ALJ Ryan A. Alger for an administrative hearing. [Tr. 45-71]. The claimant J.A.F. also testified at the hearing. [Tr. 47-52]. On December 15, 2014, ALJ Alger found that J.A.F. was not disabled, and denied the claim. [Tr. 7-25]. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on April 6, 2016. [Tr. 1-5]. The case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §405(g).

         Plaintiff, represented by counsel, timely filed this action for review and moves to reverse the Commissioner's decision.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The review of a social security disability determination involves two levels of inquiry. First, the Court must decide whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal principles in making the determination. Second, the Court must decide whether the determination is supported by substantial evidence. Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it is more than a “mere scintilla.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The reviewing court's responsibility is to ensure that a claim has been fairly evaluated by the ALJ. Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983) (citation omitted).

         The Court does not reach the second stage of review - evaluating whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion - if the Court determines that the ALJ failed to apply the law correctly. See Norman v. Astrue, 912 F.Supp.2d 33, 70 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (“The Court first reviews the Commissioner's decision for compliance with the correct legal standards; only then does it determine whether the Commissioner's conclusions were supported by substantial evidence.”). “Where there is a reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have her disability determination made according to the correct legal principles.” Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987).

         “[T]he crucial factors in any determination must be set forth with sufficient specificity to enable [a reviewing court] to decide whether the determination is supported by substantial evidence.” Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir. 1984) (alteration added) (citation omitted). The ALJ is free to accept or reject the testimony of any witness, but a “finding that the witness is not credible must nevertheless be set forth with sufficient specificity to permit intelligible plenary review of the record.” Williams ex rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 260-61 (2d Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). “Moreover, when a finding is potentially dispositive on the issue of disability, there must be enough discussion to enable a reviewing court to determine whether substantial evidence exists to support that finding.” Johnston v. Colvin, Civil Action No. 3:13-CV-00073(JCH), 2014 WL 1304715, at *6 (D. Conn. Mar. 31, 2014) (internal citations omitted).

         It is important to note that, in reviewing the ALJ's decision, this Court's role is not to start from scratch. “In reviewing a final decision of the SSA, this Court is limited to determining whether the SSA's conclusions were supported by substantial evidence in the record and were based on a correct legal standard.” Talavera v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “[W]hether there is substantial evidence supporting the appellant's view is not the question here; rather, we must decide whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.” Bonet ex rel. T.B. v. Colvin, 523 F. App'x 58, 59 (2d Cir. 2013)(citations omitted)(emphasis in original).

         III. SSA LEGAL STANDARD

         A child under the age of eighteen will be considered disabled if it can be shown that he 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 Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has devised a three-step process for hearing officers to use in determining whether a child is disabled under the Code of Federal Regulations (the “Regulations”). 20 C.F.R. §416.924(a). At step one, the hearing officer is charged with determining whether the claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity, ” id., which is defined as “work activity that involves doing significant physical or mental activities” typically in exchange for “pay or profit.” 20 C.F.R. §416.972(a)-(b). If the claimant is not engaging in substantial gainful activity, then the hearing officer may proceed to step two, at which the hearing officer must determine whether the claimant has “an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe.” 20 C.F.R. §416.924(a). If the claimant is found to have a severe impairment or a combination of severe impairments, the analysis proceeds to the third step, at which point the hearing officer must determine whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that “meets, medically equals, or functionally equals” a presumptively disabling condition found within the Regulations' listings of impairments (the “Listings”). Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1.

         A child's functional limitations are evaluated pursuant to criteria set forth in the following six domains of functioning: (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)(i)-(vi). A medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments is considered to functionally equal a condition in the Listings if it “result[s] in ‘marked' limitations in two domains of functioning or an ‘extreme' limitation in one domain.” 20 C.F.R. §416.926a(a). A marked limitation is characterized in the Regulations as any limitation that is “more than moderate but less than extreme.” Id. §416.926a(e)(2)(i) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A marked limitation may arise when several activities or functions are impaired, or even when only one is impaired, as long as the degree of limitation is such as to interfere seriously with [the claimant's] ability to function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis.” 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, §12.00(C). In considering how well a child is functioning in a given domain, adjudicators will compare a child's functioning to “a typical functioning of children your age who do not have impairments.” 20 C.F.R. §416.926a(f).

         IV. THE ...


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