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Barnes-Atterberry v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 27, 2018

LISA BARNES-ATTERBERRY, Guardian for AMR, a Minor, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Lisa Barnes-Atterberry, on behalf of AMR, a minor, seeks judicial review of the final agency decision denying AMR's application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for SSI on behalf of AMR in 2007. (Tr. 179-85). In 2008, the agency determined that AMR suffered from a disability as of October 2007. (Tr. 21). The agency reviewed AMR's case in 2014 and determined she no longer suffered from a disability as of May 2014. (Tr. 98-102). This determination was upheld on reconsideration and plaintiff requested an evidentiary hearing. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Stuart Janney conducted a hearing in January 2016 and issued an unfavorable decision thereafter. (Tr. 21-42). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final agency decision. (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies and filed a timely Complaint in this Court. (Doc. 1).

         Plaintiff's Argument

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in evaluating a treating source's opinion. She also contends the ALJ erroneously held that AMR had less than marked limitations in domains of “Attending and Completing Tasks, Interacting and Relating to Others, and Caring for Yourself.”

         Applicable Legal Standards

         To qualify for SSI, a child must be disabled within the meaning of the applicable statutes. “An individual under the age of 18 shall be considered disabled” if she “has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations” that “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 Regulations set forth a three-step analysis for this assessment. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). The Seventh Circuit has explained the process as follows:

First, if the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the ALJ will deny the claim. Second, if the child does not have a severe medical impairment or combination of impairments, then she is not disabled. Third, the child's impairments must meet, medically equal, or functionally equal any of the listings contained in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.

Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 809-10 (7th Cir. 2011).

         To determine whether an impairment or combination of impairments functionally equals the listings, the ALJ assesses a claimant's functioning using six domains: Acquiring and Using Information; Attending and Completing Tasks; Interacting and Relating with Others; Moving About and Manipulating Objects; Caring for Yourself; and Health and Physical Well-Being. If the claimant is markedly limited in two domains or extremely limited in one domain, the claimant functionally equals the listings. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(d).

         Once a child has been awarded benefits, the agency undertakes a periodic review of continued eligibility to receive benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594a. The agency first considers whether there has been medical improvement of the child's impairment(s). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594a(a)(1). “Medical improvement is any decrease in the medical severity of [a child's] impairment(s) which was present at the time of the most recent favorable decision that [they] were disabled or continued to be disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594a(c). If there has not been any medical improvement, the child remains disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594a(b)(1). If there has been medical improvement, the Commissioner considers whether the impairment(s) the child had at the most recent favorable decision still meets or equals a listing. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594a(b)(2). If the child's impairment(s) no longer meets or equals a listing, the Commissioner then considers whether the child has any other severe impairment(s) that meets or equals a listing. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594a(b)(3).

         A claimant may appeal the final decision of the Social Security Administration to this Court, but the scope of review here is limited: while the Court must ensure that the ALJ did not make any errors of law, the ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive as long as they are supported by “substantial evidence.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable person would find sufficient to support a decision. Weatherbee, 649 F.3d at 568 (citing Jens v. Barnhart, 347 F.3d 209, 212 (7th Cir. 2003)). The Court takes into account the entire administrative record when reviewing for substantial evidence, but it does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ. Brewer v. Chater, 103 F.3d 1384, 1390 (7th Cir. 1997); Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1121 (7th Cir. 2014). But even though this judicial review is limited, the Court should not and does not act as a rubber stamp for the Commissioner. Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010).

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ determined that at the time of the last favorable decision, AMR had medically determinable impairments of speech and language delays. He opined medical improvement occurred as of May 1, 2014 and AMR's impairments did not functionally equal a listing as of that date. The ALJ opined that as of May 1, 2014, AMR had severe impairments of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), opposition defiant disorder (ODD), personality disorder, autism spectrum disorder, history of chromosomal disorder, history of developmental delays, and insomnia. (Tr. 24-32). ALJ Janney found none of these impairments or combination of impairments met, medically equaled, or functionally equaled any of the listings. Thus, AMR's disability ended on May 1, 2014 and she had not become disabled since. (Tr. 33-42).

         The Evidentiary Record

         The Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The following summary of the record is directed to the plaintiff's arguments.

         1. Agency Forms

         Plaintiff completed a continuing disability form in January 2014. AMR was born in 2003. Plaintiff indicated AMR had a personality disorder and mood and anger issues. AMR could not stay focused and needed repetitive instruction. She could not deliver telephone messages, tell jokes, explain why she did something, or use sentences with “because, ” “what if, ” or “should have been.” She could not read and understand simple sentences or stories in books. AMR could not write in longhand or write a simple story with six sentences. AMR could not understand money or tell time. She could not use roller skates, swim, or work video game controls. AMR was very clumsy, fell down, and ran into things. AMR had no friends her age and generally did not get along with adults or schoolteachers. She liked to fight and argue. AMR could not bathe without assistance and she did not put away toys, hang-up clothes, help with chores, do what she was told, obey safety rules, or accept criticism. AMR needed continual supervision. She could not be left unattended with smaller children because she yelled at them and knocked them down. In September 2013, AMR used matches to light a couch and floor on fire. (Tr. 206, 217, 220-26).

         AMR's fourth-grade teacher completed a questionnaire in March 2014 that consisted of five domains: Caring for Herself; Moving About and Manipulating Objects; Interacting and Relating with Others; Attending and Completing Tasks; and Acquiring and Using Information. The teacher opined AMR had no problems with functions associated with Acquiring and Using Information. AMR had the following problems with Attending and Completing Tasks: slight problems focusing, carrying out multi-step instructions, completing assignments, and working at a reasonable pace; and obvious problems with organization. AMR had no problems with functions associated with Interacting and Relating with Others, Moving About and Manipulating Objects, or Caring for Herself. AMR's ...

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