United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
ANGEL L. HORNE o/b/o, K.L. HORNE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED
STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Elizabeth Peake United States Magistrate Judge
Angel L. Horne (“Plaintiff”), on behalf of her
minor child K.L. Horne (“K.L.H.”), brought this
action pursuant to Section 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security
Act (the “Act”), as amended (42 U.S.C. §
1383(c)(3)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for
Child Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the
Act. The parties have filed cross-motions for judgment, and
the administrative record has been certified to the Court for
filed her application for Supplemental Security Income on
April 24, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of January
1, 2012. (Tr. at 14, 61, 127-35.) Her application was denied
initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. at 61-92.)
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing de
novo before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
(Tr. at 93-94.) On March 5, 2014, both Plaintiff and K.L.H.
appeared and testified at the subsequent hearing. (Tr. at
14.) Although the ALJ informed Plaintiff of her
daughter's right to representation, Plaintiff chose to
proceed without the assistance of an attorney or other
representative. (Tr. at 33-37.) The ALJ ultimately issued a
decision finding K.L.H not disabled within the meaning of the
Act (Tr. at 14-27), and on October 20, 2015, the Appeals
Council denied review, thereby making the ALJ's
conclusion the Commissioner's final decision for purposes
of judicial review (Tr. at 1-5).
law “authorizes judicial review of the Social Security
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits.”
Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 561 (4th Cir.
2006). However, “the scope of [the] review of [such an
administrative] decision . . . is extremely limited.”
Frady v. Harris, 646 F.2d 143, 144 (4th Cir. 1981).
“The courts are not to try the case de novo.”
Oppenheim v. Finch, 495 F.2d 396, 397 (4th Cir.
1974). Instead, “a reviewing court must uphold the
factual findings of the ALJ [underlying the denial of
benefits] if they are supported by substantial evidence and
were reached through application of the correct legal
standard.” Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470,
472 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal brackets omitted).
evidence means ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d
31, 34 (4th Cir. 1993) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971)). “It consists
of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat
less than a preponderance.” Mastro v. Apfel,
270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (internal citations and
quotation marks omitted). “If there is evidence to
justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a
jury, then there is substantial evidence.”
Hunter, 993 F.2d at 34 (internal quotation marks
reviewing for substantial evidence, the court should not
undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the
[ALJ].” Mastro, 270 F.3d at 176 (internal
brackets and quotation marks omitted). “Where
conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to
whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that
decision falls on the ALJ.” Hancock, 667 F.3d
at 472. “The issue before [the reviewing court],
therefore, is not whether [the claimant] is disabled, but
whether the ALJ's finding that [the claimant] is not
disabled is supported by substantial evidence and was reached
based upon a correct application of the relevant law.”
Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996).
undertaking this limited review, the Court notes that in
administrative proceedings, “[a] claimant for
disability benefits bears the burden of proving a
disability.” Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264
(4th Cir. 1981). A child under the age of 18 qualifies as
disabled if he or she has 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. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.906. More specifically, the ALJ must follow a
three-step sequential evaluation process to consider whether
the child in question (1) has engaged in substantial gainful
activity; (2) has a severe impairment; and (3) has an
impairment that meets, medically equals, or functionally
equals a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a).
third step, in determining whether a child's impairment
is functionally equivalent to a listed impairment, the ALJ
considers how the child functions in six domains: (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 himself, and
(6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. §
416.926a(b)(1). An impairment or combination of impairments
functionally equals a listed impairment if it results in
“marked” limitations in two domains of
functioning or an “extreme” limitation in one
domain. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a), (d). A child has a
“marked” limitation in a domain when the
impairment “interferes seriously with [her] ability to
independently initiate, sustain, or complete
activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e)(2)(i). A
marked limitation “is ‘more than moderate'
but ‘less than extreme.' It is the equivalent of
the functioning we would expect to find on standardized
testing with scores that are at least two, but less than
three, standard deviations below the mean.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.926a(e)(2)(i). A child has an
“extreme” limitation in a domain if her
impairment interferes “very seriously” with her
ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete
activities, and is the equivalent of functioning that would
be expected on standardized testing with scores that are at
least three standard deviations below the mean. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.926a(e)(3). For each of the six domains, the
regulations provide descriptions of relevant skills and their
applications for various age groups, e.g., preschool
children, school-age children, and adolescents, as well as
examples of limited functioning within each domain.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(g)-(1).
present case, the ALJ found that K.L.H., a minor child, had
never worked, and that she therefore met her burden at step
one of the sequential evaluation process. At step two, the
ALJ further determined that K.L.H. suffered from the
following severe impairments:
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
[(“ADHD”)], borderline intellectual functioning,
phonological disorder, and disruptive behavior disorder.
(Tr. at 17.) The ALJ found at step three that none of these
impairments met or medically equaled a disability listing.
(Tr. at 17.) The ALJ then conducted a detailed analysis as to
whether K.L.H.'s impairments, singly or in combination,
functionally equaled the severity of the listings.
Specifically, based on the requirements of 20 C.F.R. §
416.926a, the ALJ assessed K.L.H.'s functioning in the
six domains: (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 herself, and (6) health and physical well-being.
(Tr. at 17-27.) The ALJ concluded that K.L.H. did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that resulted in
either “marked” limitations ...