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Maxim v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

May 30, 2014

LEAH MAXIM, o/b/o E.S.M., a minor child, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

THOMAS O. RICE, District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 15 and 20). Plaintiff is represented by Dana C. Madsen. Defendant is represented by Diana Andsager. The Court has reviewed the administrative record and the parties' completed briefing and is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant Defendant's motion and deny Plaintiff's motion.

Plaintiff, on behalf of E.S.M., a minor child, seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying E.S.M. Supplemental Security Income Child Benefits under Title XVI.

JURISDICTION

The Court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g); 1383(c)(3).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A district court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The scope of review under §405(g) is limited: the Commissioner's decision will be disturbed "only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error." Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1158-59 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). "Substantial evidence" means relevant evidence that "a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. at 1159 (quotation and citation omitted). Stated differently, substantial evidence equates to "more than a mere scintilla[, ] but less than a preponderance." Id. (quotation and citation omitted). In determining whether this standard has been satisfied, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole rather than searching for supporting evidence in isolation. Id.

In reviewing a denial of benefits, a district court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. If the evidence in the record "is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, [the court] must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record." Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). Further, a district court "may not reverse an ALJ's decision on account of an error that is harmless." Id. at 1111. An error is harmless "where it is inconsequential to the [ALJ's] ultimate nondisability determination." Id. at 1115 (quotation and citation omitted). The party appealing the ALJ's decision generally bears the burden of establishing that it was harmed. Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409-10 (2009).

THREE-STEP PROCESS FOR CHILDHOOD DISABILITY

To qualify for Title XVI (SSI) benefits, a child under the age of eighteen must have "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 Commissioner has established a three-step sequential analysis to determine whether a claimant satisfies the above criteria. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). First, the Commissioner considers whether the child is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Id. at § 416.924(b). Second, the ALJ considers whether the child has a "medically determinable impairment that is severe, " which is defined as an impairment that causes "more than minimal functional limitations." Id. at § 416.924(c). Finally, if the ALJ finds a severe impairment, he or she must then consider whether the impairment "medically equals" or "functionally equals" a disability listed in the "Listing of Impairments." Id. at § 416.924(c)-(d); Id. at § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.

If the ALJ finds that the child's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or medically equal a listing, he or she must determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments functionally equals a listing. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). The ALJ's functional equivalence assessment requires him or her to evaluate the child's functioning in six "domains." These six domains, which are designed "to capture all of what a child can or cannot do, " are as follows:

(1) Acquiring and using information;
(2) Attending and completing tasks;
(3) Interacting and relating ...

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