United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT ECF NOS. 18, 20
K. DIMKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
THE COURT are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. ECF Nos. 18, 20. The parties consented to proceed
before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 7. The Court, having
reviewed the administrative record and the parties'
briefing, is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below,
the Court denies Plaintiffs motion (ECF No. 18) and grants
Defendant's motion (ECF No. 20).
Court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
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 (9th Cir. 2012). “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 the 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. Edlund v. Massanari,
253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001). 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. 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).
PROCESS FOR CHILDHOOD DISABILITY
qualify for Title XVI supplement security income 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
regulations provide a three-step process to determine whether
a claimant satisfies the above criteria. 20 C.F.R. §
416.924(a). First, the ALJ must determine whether the child
is engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §
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.” 20
C.F.R. § 416.924(c). Finally, if the ALJ finds a severe
impairment, the ALJ must then consider whether the impairment
“medically equals” or “functionally
equals” a disability listed in the “Listing of
Impairments.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c)-(d).
ALJ finds that the child's impairment or combination of
impairments does not meet or medically equal a listing, the
ALJ must determine whether the impairment or combination of
impairments functionally equals a listing. 20 C.F.R. §
416.926a(a) (2011). The ALJ's functional equivalence
assessment requires the ALJ 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 with others;
(4) Moving about and manipulating objects;
(5) Caring for self; and
(6) Health and physical well-being.
20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)(i)-(vi) (2011). A child's
impairment will be deemed to functionally equal a listed
impairment if the child's condition results in a
“marked” limitations in two domains, or an
“extreme” limitation in one domain. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.926a(a) (2011). An impairment is a “marked
limitation” if it “interferes seriously with [a
person's] ability to independently initiate, sustain, or
complete activities ” 20 C.F.R. §
416.926a(e)(2)(i) (2011). By contrast, an “extreme
limitation” is defined as a limitation that
“interferes very seriously with [a person's]
ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete
activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(3)(i) (2011).
Secretary of the Washington State Department of Social and
Health Services protectively applied for Title XVI
supplemental security income benefits on April 12, 2012,
behalf of Plaintiff, a minor child, alleging a disability
onset date of August 17, 1996. Tr. 150-59. The application was
denied initially, Tr. 90-93, and on reconsideration, Tr.
100-03. Plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an
administrative law judge (ALJ) on April 22, 2014. Tr. 45-68.
On April 29, 2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiffs claim. Tr.
one of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since April 2, 2012, the date the application was filed. Tr.
23. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the following
severe impairment: cognitive disorder, not otherwise
specified with attention deficits. Tr. 23. At step three, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals a
listed impairment. Tr. 23. The ALJ then determined Plaintiff
does not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that functionally equals the severity of the listings. Tr.
23. As a result, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not
been disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act, since
April 2, 2012, the date the application was filed. Tr. 34.
February 23, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review, Tr.
1-3, making the Commissioner's decision final for
purposes of judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. §
1383(c)(3); 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1481, 422.210.
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision denying him supplemental security income benefits
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. ECF No. 18.
Plaintiff raises the following issues for this Court's
Whether the ALJ properly determined that Plaintiff's
impairments did not functionally equal a listed impairment;
and 2. Whether the ALJ properly weighed the medical opinion
evidence. ECF No. 18 at 8.
Impairments that Meet or Functionally Equal a Listed
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by failing to find that
Plaintiffs impairments meet or functionally equal a listed
impairment. ECF No. 18 at 8-14. Specifically, Plaintiff
alleges he suffers marked impairment in four of the six
domains. Plaintiff further contends that in failing to find
marked limitations in at least two domains, the ALJ failed to
appropriately weigh medical evidence. Id.
is responsible for deciding functional equivalence after
consideration of all evidence submitted. 20 C.F.R. §
416.926a(n) (2011). The Regulations list the information and
factors that will be considered in determining whether a
child's impairment functionally equals a Listing. 20
C.F.R. § 416.926a (2011); 20 C.F.R. §§
416.924a (2011); 416.924b. In making this determination, the
Commissioner considers test scores together with reports and
observations of school personnel and others. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.924a(a), 416.926a(e)(4)(ii) (2011). The ALJ
also considers how much extra help the child needs, how
independent he is, how he functions in school, and the
effects of treatment, if any. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)
(2011). In evaluating this type of information, the ALJ will
consider how the child performs activities as compared to
other children his age who do not have impairments. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.926a(b) (2011). This information comes from
examining and non-examining medical sources as well ...