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HARRIS v. BARNHART

November 14, 2002

ARLILLIAN HARRIS, PLAINTIFF
V.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morton Denlow, United States Magistrate Judge

  MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This case comes before the Court for a review of the final decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying minor plaintiff, Arlillian Harris ("Claimant" or "Harris"), Child's Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 1382. Harris seeks a continuation of her SSI benefits due to her chronic diabetes mellitus. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denied continuation of benefits.

Harris seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. The matter comes before this Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. The issues to be decided are: 1) whether substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's finding that Claimant did not medically or functionally equal Listing 109.08B, found in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, and 2) whether the Appeals Council erred in failing to change the ALJ's decision. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On May 5, 1995, Harris, through her mother Deborah Bond ("Bond"), applied for SSI benefits, claiming disability due to diabetes mellitus. R. 115-18. On March 13, 1996, the ALJ decided in Harris's favor, backdating her benefits to April 24, 1995. R. 366-72. Due to the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act in 1996, the Regional Commissioner of the Social Security Administration reviewed Claimant's case to see if she still qualified for SSI. In July 1997 Claimant was notified that she was no longer eligible to receive SSI because she was no longer considered disabled under the new law. R. 428-431. Bond filed a request for reconsideration of continuation of SSI on November 17, 1997. R. 440-51. Upon reconsideration, the Disability Hearing Officer found the Claimant to be not disabled. R. 465-70.

Bond timely filed a request for a hearing before an ALJ. R. 473. A hearing was held before ALJ Edwin J. Shinitsky on February 19, 1999, and a supplemental hearing was held February 11, 2000. R. 28-63; R. 64-114. Dr. Milford Schwartz testified as a medical expert ("ME") at both hearings. The ALJ rendered his decision denying Claimant continuation of benefits on March 31, 2000. R. 18-26.

Bond filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision by the Commissioner's Appeal Council, which was denied, leaving the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 11-13. Bond then filed a request for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which is currently before this Court.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Judicial review of a Commissioner's final decision is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides that the "findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." An ALJ's decision becomes the Commissioner's final decision if the Appeals Council denies a request for review. Wolfe v. Shalala, 997 F.2d 321, 322 (7th Cir. 1993). Under such circumstances, the decision reviewed by the district court is the decision of the ALJ. Eads v. Secretary of the Dept. of Health & Human Serv., 983 F.2d 815, 816 (7th Cir. 1993). A reviewing court may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995).

Judicial review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards in reaching its decision and whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support his findings. Schoenfeld v. Apfel, 237 F.3d 788, 792 (7th Cir. 2001); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if the evidence "compels" reversal, not merely because the evidence supports a contrary decision. INS v. Zacarias, 502 U.S. 478, 481, n. 1 (1992). The Act gives a court the power to enter a judgment "affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. ESTABLISHING A DISABILITY.

On August 22, 1996, Congress enacted the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 ("PRWORA"), which amended the statutory standard for children seeking SSI benefits based on disability. See § 211(a) of Pub. L. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105, 2188-89 (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)). Prior to enactment of Pub. L. 104-193, a child was considered disabled if he or she had a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that met the statutory duration requirement and was "of comparable severity" to an impairment that would disable an adult. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (1994); 20 C.F.R. § 416.924 (1996). The PRWORA revised this standard to one under which a child seeking SSI benefits based, on disability will be found ...


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