United States District Court, D. Connecticut
GRIZEL I. MIRANDA o/b/o J.A.F.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS
B. FITZSIMMONS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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
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.
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].
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).
represented by counsel, timely filed this action for review
and moves to reverse the Commissioner's decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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).
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
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).
SSA LEGAL STANDARD
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).
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.
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).