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Toure v. Saul

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

January 6, 2020

KADIATOU TOURE o/b/o C.B.S., Jr., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          L. PATRICK AULD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Kadiatou Toure, brought this action on behalf of her minor child, C.B.S., Jr., pursuant to the Social Security Act (the “Act”), to obtain judicial review of the final decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security, denying Plaintiff's claim for Child Supplemental Security Income (“CSSI”). (Docket Entry 2.) Defendant has filed the certified administrative record (Docket Entry 8 (cited herein as “Tr. ___ ”)), and both parties have moved for judgment (Docket Entries 10, 11; see also Docket Entry 12 (Defendant's Memorandum)). For the reasons that follow, the Court should enter judgment for Defendant.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff applied for CSSI on behalf of her child C.B.S., Jr. (Tr. 156-64.) Following denial of that application initially (Tr. 74-85, 99-102) and on reconsideration (Tr. 86-98, 106-12), Plaintiff requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 113-15). Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, testified at the hearing. (Tr. 32-64.) The ALJ subsequently ruled that C.B.S., Jr. did not qualify as disabled under the Act. (Tr. 7-27.) The Appeals Council thereafter denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-6, 153-55, 266), thereby making the ALJ's ruling the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review.

         In rendering this disability determination, the ALJ made the following findings later adopted by the Commissioner:

1. [C.B.S., Jr.] . . . was a school-age child on . . . the date the application was filed, and is currently an adolescent.
2. [C.B.S., Jr.] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since . . . the application date.
3. [C.B.S., Jr.] has the following severe impairments: seizure disorder, under control; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [(“ADHD”)], and oppositional defiant disorder.
4. [C.B.S., Jr.] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. [C.B.S., Jr.] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equals the severity of the listings.
6. [C.B.S., Jr.] has not been disabled, as defined in the . . . Act, since . . . the date the application was filed.

(Tr. 13-26 (bold font and internal citations omitted).)

         II. DISCUSSION

         Federal 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 . . . review of [such an administrative] decision . . . is extremely limited.” Frady v. Harris, 646 F.2d 143, 144 (4th Cir. 1981). Plaintiff has not shown entitlement to relief under the extremely limited review standard.

         A. Standard of Review

         “[C]ourts are not to try [a Social Security] 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.” Hines, 453 F.3d at 561 (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted).

         “Substantial 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 omitted).

         “In 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, as adopted by the Commissioner].” 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 [Commissioner] (or the ALJ).” Id. at 179 (internal quotation marks omitted). “The issue before [the 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).

         When confronting that issue, the Court must take note that “[a] claimant for disability benefits bears the burden of proving a disability, ” Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264 (4th Cir. 1981), and a child under the age of 18 qualifies as disabled if he or she has “a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that causes marked and severe functional limitations, and that can be expected to cause death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months, ” 20 C.F.R. § 416.906. In resolving such a claim, the ALJ must follow a three-step sequential evaluation process to consider whether a claimant (1) has ...


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