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Skinner v. Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

August 30, 2019

Calvin Skinner, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Eileen S. Willett United States Magistrate Judge.

         This action appeals the Social Security Administration's (“Social Security”) denial of an application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) filed on behalf of Plaintiff Calvin Skinner, Jr., a minor under age 18. This Court has jurisdiction to decide Plaintiff's appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court has the power to enter, based upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the case for a rehearing. Both parties have consented to the exercise of U.S. Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 13). After reviewing the Administrative Record (“A.R.”) and the parties' briefing (Docs. 16, 21, 22), the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision is supported by substantial evidence and is free of harmful legal error. The decision is therefore affirmed.

         I. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Disability Analysis

         A child is disabled for the purposes of receiving SSI benefits if he “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.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). To decide if a child is entitled to disability benefits, an ALJ conducts a three-step sequential evaluation. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). In the first step, the ALJ determines whether the child engaged in substantial gainful activity during the alleged disability period. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b). If the child has been engaged in substantial gainful activity, the analysis ends and disability benefits are denied. Id. Otherwise, the ALJ proceeds to the second step.

         In the second step, the ALJ determines whether the child has a severe medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c). If there are no such impairments, the disability claim is denied. Id. If there are such impairments, the ALJ proceeds to the third step.

         In the final step of the analysis, the ALJ determines whether the child's impairment meets or medically or functionally equals an impairment in the Listing of Impairments (“Listing”), 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, App. 1. If the impairment meets or equals an impairment in the Listing, it is presumed to cause “marked and severe functional limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d). If the impairment has lasted or can be expected to last for at least twelve months, then the child is deemed disabled and awarded benefits.

         B. Standard of Review Applicable to ALJ's Determination

         The Court must affirm an ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence and is based on correct legal standards. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012); Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 172, 174 (9th Cir. 1990). Although “substantial evidence” is less than a preponderance, it is more than a “mere scintilla.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id.

         In determining whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the Court considers the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusions. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Tylitzki v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 1411, 1413 (9th Cir. 1993). If there is sufficient evidence to support the ALJ's determination, the Court cannot substitute its own determination. See Morgan v. Comm'r of the Social Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir.1999) (“Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion that must be upheld.”); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). This is because the ALJ, not the Court, is responsible for resolving conflicts, ambiguity, and determining credibility. Magallanes, 881 F.2d at 750; see also Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

         The Court must also consider the harmless error doctrine when reviewing an ALJ's decision. This doctrine provides that an ALJ's decision need not be remanded or reversed if it is clear from the record that the error is “inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted); Molina, 674 F.3d at 1115 (an error is harmless so long as there remains substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's decision and the error “does not negate the validity of the ALJ's ultimate conclusion”) (citations omitted).

         II. PLAINTIFF'S APPEAL

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff is a minor child born on July 6, 2005. (A.R. 109). On November 13, 2015, his mother applied for SSI on his behalf. (A.R. 175-80). The application alleged that on August 30, 2011, Plaintiff became disabled due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ...


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