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Bryd ex rel. M.J.J. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 21, 2017

ELENA BYRD ex rel. M.J.J. Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         Elena Byrd, mother of M.J.J., filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying M.J.J.'s application for Supplemental Security Income under § 1614(a)(3)(C) of the Social Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


         To recover Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a claimant must establish that he or she is disabled within the meaning of the Act. York v. Massanari, 155 F.Supp.2d 973, 976-77 (N.D. Ill. 2001). “A child qualifies as disabled and therefore may be eligible for SSI if he has a ‘medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations' and the impairment ‘has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.'” Hopgood ex rel. L.G. v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 696, 699 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i)).

         The Social Security Administration (SSA) employs a three-step analysis to decide whether a child meets this definition. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). First, if the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity, his or her claim is denied. Id. Second, if the child does not have a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments, then his or her claim is denied. Id. Finally, the child's impairments must meet, or be functionally equivalent, to any of the Listings of Impairments (Listings) contained in 20 CFR pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. Id. To find an impairment functionally equivalent to one in the Listings, an ALJ must analyze its severity in six age-appropriate categories: (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. Id. § 416.926a(a). To functionally equal the Listings, the ALJ must find an “extreme” limitation in one category or a “marked” limitation in two categories. An “extreme” limitation occurs when the impairment interferes very seriously with the child's ability to independently initiate, sustain or complete activities. Id. § 416.926a(e)(3)(I). A “marked” limitation is one which interferes seriously with the child's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. Id. § 416.926a(e)(2)(I).


         On May 23, 2011, Elena Byrd filed an application for SSI on behalf of her minor child, M.J.J., who was born on October 27, 2007, alleging that he became disabled on May 3, 2011. (R. at 19, 288). The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which Ms. Byrd filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 19, 143-48, 154-61). On November 9, 2012, September 25, 2013, and May 9, 2014, M.J.J. and Ms. Byrd, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).[2] (Id. at 19, 43-142). At the November 9, 2012, and May 9, 2014 hearings, the ALJ also heard testimony from Ellen J. Rozenfeld, Psy.D, a medical expert (ME). (Id. at 19, 67-76, 136-40, 195-98). At the September 25, 2013, and May 9, 2014 hearings, the ALJ also heard testimony from Milford F. Schwartz Jr., M.D., another ME. (Id. at 19, 76-91, 110-17, 236).

         On June 25, 2014, the ALJ denied M.J.J.'s request for benefits. (R. at 19-37). Applying the three-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found at step one that M.J.J. has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 23, 2011, his application date. (Id. at 22). At step two, the ALJ found that M.J.J.'s history of congenital discoid right meniscus status post arthroscopic surgery, suspected cyst with intermittent discomfort, and history of developmental delays with persistent bor- derline speech language deficits are severe impairments. (Id.). The ALJ also found that M.J.J.'s anemia and rheumatoid arthritis are nonsevere impairments. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that M.J.J. does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of any of the Listings. (Id. at 23-24). Specifically, the ALJ concluded that M.J.J. does not meet or medically equal either Listing 101.03 or Listing 112.02. (Id.). The ALJ then determined that M.J.J. does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equal the severity of any of the Listings. (R. 23-63). In making this determination, the ALJ heavily relied on the opinions of Drs. Rozenfeld and Schwartz, who found that M.J.J. has, at most, less than marked limitations in all six of the functional equivalency domains. (Id. at 28-36).

         The Appeals Council denied M.J.J.'s request for review on October 28, 2015. (R. 1-6). M.J.J. now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).


         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is authorized by § 405(g) of the Act. In reviewing this decision, the Court may not engage in its own analysis of whether the plaintiff is severely impaired as defined by the Social Security Regulations (“regulations”). Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Nor may it “reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, decide questions of credibility, or, in general, substitute [its] own judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Id.

         The Court's task is “limited to determining whether the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence.” Id. (citing § 405(g)). Evidence is considered substantial “if a reasonable person would accept it as adequate to support a conclusion.” Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 473 (7th Cir. 2004); see Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1120-21 (7th Cir. 2014) (“We will uphold the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence, that is, such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”) (citation omitted). “Substantial evidence must be more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). “In addition to relying on substantial evidence, the ALJ must also explain his analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review.” Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005).

         Although this Court accords great deference to the ALJ's determination, it “must do more than merely rubber stamp the ALJ's decision.” Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). “This deferential standard of review is weighted in favor of upholding the ALJ's decision, but it does not mean that we scour the record for supportive evidence or rack our brains for reasons to uphold the ALJ's decision. Rather, the ALJ must identify the relevant evidence and build a ‘logical bridge' between that evidence and the ultimate determination.” Moon v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 718, 721 (7th Cir. 2014). Where the Commissioner's decision “lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, the case must be remanded.” Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).


         M.J.J. was born on October 22, 2007, and was six years old at the time of his SSI application. His knee pain is first documented in the record at Friend Family Health Center in January 2011, when he was three years old. (R. at 357). Treatment notes indicate that his knees had caused him intermittent pain starting in June 2010. (Id. at 357, 470). M.J.J.'s history of delayed speech and language was first documented at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital in May 2011. (Id. at ...

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