Logan-Johnson v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on June 30, 2014. (sh)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
FORT SMITH DIVISION
On behalf of
K.L.J., A MINOR
Civil No. 2:13-cv-02119
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Latasha Logan-Johnson (“Plaintiff”) brings this action on behalf of K.L.J., a minor, pursuant
to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”)
denying K.L.J.’s application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act.
The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all
proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and
conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 7.1 Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues
this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.
Plaintiff protectively filed an SSI application on behalf of K.L.J. on May 7, 2010. (Tr. 14,
127-130). Plaintiff alleged K.L.J. was disabled due to asthma, leg pain, migraines, depression,
anxiety, and gastric reflux. (Tr. 168). Plaintiff alleged K.L.J.’s onset date was March 1, 2003. (Tr.
The docket numbers for this case are referenced by the designation “ECF No. ____” The transcript pages
for this case are referenced by the designation “Tr.”
168). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 14).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on K.L.J.’s application, and this
hearing request was granted. (Tr. 100). An administrative hearing was held on May 19, 2011 in Fort
Smith, Arkansas. (Tr. 34-82). Plaintiff was present at the hearing, and was represented by counsel,
Davis Duty. Id. K.L.J. and Plaintiff testified at the hearing. Id. During that hearing, K.L.J. testified
she was born on December 29, 2000 and was ten years old as of the date of the hearing. Id.
On August 31, 2011, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s application
for SSI on behalf of K.L.J. (Tr. 14-29). In this decision, the ALJ determined K.L.J. had not engaged
in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) at any time since the alleged onset date. (Tr. 17, Finding
2). The ALJ determined K.L.J. had severe impairments of asthma, migraine headaches, PTSD, and
obsessive compulsive disorder. (Tr. 17, Finding 3). The ALJ also determined, however, that none
of K.L.J.’s impairments met, medically equaled, or were functionally equivalent to the Listing of
Impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4. (Tr. 17, Finding 4).
In assessing whether K.L.J.’s impairments were functionally equivalent to a Listing, the ALJ
assessed six domains of functioning. (Tr. 18-28). Specifically, the ALJ determined K.L.J. had the
following limitations in the six domains of functioning: (1) less than a marked limitation in acquiring
and using information; (2) less than a marked limitation in attending and completing tasks; (3) less
than a marked limitation in interacting and relating with others; (4) no limitation in moving about
and manipulating objects; (5) no limitations in caring for oneself; and (6) less than a marked
limitation in health and physical well-being. (Tr. 23-28). Based upon these findings, the ALJ
determined K.L.J. had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, at any time through the date
of his decision. (Tr. 28, Finding 6).
Thereafter, on November 2, 2011, Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the
ALJ’s unfavorable decision. (Tr. 8-10). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. On February 26, 2013, the
Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-3). On May 2, 2013, Plaintiff
filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on May
3, 2013. ECF No. 7. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 12, 13. This case is now
ready for decision.
In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner’s
findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
(2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than
a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to
support the Commissioner’s decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001).
As long as there is substantial evidence in the record that supports the Commissioner’s decision, the
Court may not reverse it simply because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have
supported a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. See
Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). If, after reviewing the record, it is possible
to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the
findings of the ALJ, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. See Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065,
1068 (8th Cir. 2000).
In this case, Plaintiff is seeking disability benefits on behalf of a minor child. On August 22,
1996, Congress enacted the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of
1996, Public Law No. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105 (1996) (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)),
which provided a more stringent standard for determining eligibility for Title XVI childhood
disability benefits than the old law and prior regulations required. See Rucker v. Apfel, 141 F.3d
1256, 1259 (8th Cir. 1998); 142 Cong. Rec. H8913; H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 725, 104th Cong. 2d Sess.
328 (1996), reprinted in 1996 U.S. Code, Cong. and Ad. News 2649, 2716; Federal Register, Vol.
62, No. 28, p. 6409.
Among other things, the new law amended Section 1614(a)(3) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3), and changed the statutory definition of disability for individuals under age eighteen (18)
under the SSI program. Under the new standard, a child is entitled to disability benefits only 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. See Pub. L. No. 104-193 §
211(a)(4)(c); 20 C.F.R. § 416.906. The new standard applies to all applicants who filed claims on
or after August 22, 1996, or whose claims had not been finally adjudicated by August 22, 1996.
Since Plaintiff filed her application in 2010, the new law applies.
Under the new law, the ALJ’s disability determination is based upon a three-step analysis.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. First, the ALJ must determine whether the minor child has engaged in
substantial gainful activity. If not, the ALJ will proceed to the second step where the ALJ must
consider whether the child has a severe impairment. If a severe impairment is found, the ALJ will
proceed to the third step. At this step, the ALJ, must consider whether the impairment meets, or is
medically or functionally equivalent, to a disability listing in the Listing of Impairments (“Listings”),
See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. A minor child may be disabled if his or her impairment is
functionally equivalent to a disability listing, even if the minor child’s impairment does not meet the
standard requirements for a disability listing. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d)(1).
A single method is provided for evaluating whether an impairment is “functionally
equivalent” to a disability listing, based upon six domains of functioning. The six domains are the
following: (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 or herself,
and (6) health and physical well-being. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1). If the minor child claiming
benefits has “marked” limitations in two of these domains or an “extreme” limitation in one of these
domains, then the child’s impairment is functionally equivalent to a disability listing. See id. §
416.926a(a); Moore ex rel. Moore v. Barnhart, 413 F.3d 718, 721 (8th Cir. 2005).
A “marked” limitation is a limitation that is “more than moderate” and “less than extreme.”
See id. § 416.926a(e); Lehnartz v. Barnhart, No. 04-3818, 2005 WL 1767944, at *3 (8th Cir. July
27, 2005) (unpublished). A marked limitation is one that seriously interferes with a child’s ability
to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(e). An “extreme”
limitation is more than “marked” and exists when a child’s impairment(s) interferes very seriously
with his or her ability to independently initiate, sustain or complete activities. See id. “Extreme”
limitation is the rating the Commissioner gives to the most serious limitations. See id.
In her appeal brief, Plaintiff alleges (1) the ALJ failed to correctly determine K.L.J.’s severe
impairments, and (2) K.L.J. has a marked limitation in at least two domains of functioning or an
extreme limitation in at least one domain of functioning such that K.L.J.’s impairments are
functionally equivalent to a Listing. ECF No. 12. In response, Defendant claims the ALJ properly
determined K.L.J.’s severe impairments and that her impairments were not functionally equivalent
to any of the Listings. ECF No. 13.
A. Severe Impairments
A claimant suffers from a severe impairment if that impairment is more than slight and if that
impairment impacts the claimant’s ability to do his or her basic work activities. See Householder
v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 191, 192 n.1 (8th Cir. 1988). The Supreme Court has also held that a claimant
does not suffer from a severe impairment where the claimant only suffers from “slight abnormalities
that do not significantly limit any ‘basic work activity.’” See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 155
(1987) (O’Connor, S., concurring) (emphasis added); see also Brown v. Bowen, 827 F.2d 311, 31112 (8th Cir. 1987) (adopting Justice O’Connor’s language from Bowen v. Yuckert).
Furthermore, the standard for determining whether a claimant suffers from a severe
impairment is a low or de minimis standard. See Nicola v. Astrue, 480 F.3d 885, 887 (8th Cir. 2007)
(reversing the decision of the ALJ and holding that a diagnosis of borderline intellectual functioning
should have been considered severe because that diagnosis was supported by sufficient medical
evidence). If the ALJ errs by finding a severe impairment is not severe, the ALJ’s disability
determination must be reversed and remanded. See Nicola, 480 F.3d at 887.
According to Plaintiff, the ALJ erred when he failed to find K.L.J’s alleged obesity as a
severe impairment. The ALJ found K.L.J.’s severe impairments were asthma, migraine headaches,
PTSD, and obsessive compulsive disorder. (Tr. 17). Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s
determination regarding K.L.J.’s severe impairments.
For an impairment to be considered severe, Plaintiff must prove with at least some medical
evidence that the impairment caused more than minimal functional limitations. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.924(c); see also Neal ex. rel. Walker v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 685, 688 (8th Cir. 2005). In this
matter, the ALJ considered K.L.J.’s alleged obesity and found the medical evidence did not indicate
more than minimal limitations on K.L.J.’s ability to function. (Tr. 17).
Even though it is clear K.L.J. was overweight, she was still active in sports and other outdoor
activities. (Tr. 274-275, 311-313). This included walking long distances, riding a bicycle daily for
30 to 60 minutes, and playing baseball twice a week for one and a half hours. Id. On January 2,
2009, K.L.J. was seen at the University of Arkansas Family Medical Center by Dr. Stephanie Ho
who indicated childhood obesity and referred K.L.J. to a dietician. (Tr. 398). On September 3, 2010
and April 15, 2011, K.L.J. was seen by Dr. Ho who assessed her as being “overweight” and
prescribed diet and exercise. (Tr. 341-342, 434-436). Thus, the medical evidence of record supports
the ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff’s claims of obesity did not cause more than minimal functional
The mere existence or diagnosis of a condition is not proof of a severe impairment. The
Plaintiff must specifically prove, with medical evidence, that K.L.J.’s alleged impairment caused
more than minimal limitations on her ability to function. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c). Plaintiff has
failed to raise any medical evidence proving limitations caused by obesity.
B. Domains of Functioning
In this matter, the ALJ found that K.L.J’s impairments did not functionally equal a listing
because she did not have marked limitations in two or more domains. (Tr. 23-28). Plaintiff argues
the ALJ erred in his determination, alleging K.L.J. had extreme limitations in the domain of
interacting and relating with others and marked limitations in the domain of caring for self.
Interacting and Relating with Others
In this domain of functioning, the SSA considers how well the claimant initiates and sustains
emotional connections with others, develops and uses the language of the claimant’s community,
cooperates with others, complies with the rules, responds to criticism, and respects and takes care
of the possessions of others. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(i). The ALJ found K.L.J. has less than
marked limitation in this domain of functioning. (Tr. 25-26). Plaintiff contends K.L.J. has an
extreme limitation in this domain of functioning. ECF No. 12 at 12-16.
Between March 23, 2010 and August 3, 2010, K.L.J. was seen at Vista Health Psychiatric
Clinic and the examinations indicate K.L.J. had an appropriate mood and affect and was alert,
cooperative, and pleasant. (Tr. 21, 363-370, 374-383). The record also shows K.L.J. was active,
excited about making new friends, and played with kids at school. (Tr. 372). K.L.J. also participated
in baseball, had friends in the neighborhood, got along with her third grade teacher Robyn Bates, and
enjoyed reading and doing math. (Tr. 372, 377, 382).
Additionally, Plaintiff’s fourth grade teacher, Eddie Gatlin, completed a Teacher
Questionnaire in September 2010 and May 2011. (Tr. 205-212, 222-229). In both questionnaires,
Mr. Gatlin indicated K.L.J. had no problems in the domain of interacting and relating to others. (Tr.
Based upon information, this Court finds the ALJ’s determination that K.L.J. had a less than
marked limitation in this domain of functioning is supported by substantial evidence in the record.
Caring for Yourself
In this domain of functioning, the SSA considers how well the claimant maintains a healthy
emotional and physical state. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(k). Factors to consider include how well
the claimant gets his or her physical and emotional wants and needs met in appropriate ways, how
the claimant copes with stress and changes in his or her environment, and whether the claimant takes
care of his or her own health, possessions, and living area. Id. The ALJ determined K.L.J. had no
limitation in this domain of functioning. (Tr. 27-28). Plaintiff contends K.L.J. has a marked
limitation in this domain of functioning. ECF No. 12 at 12-16.
To begin with, mental status examination indicated K.L.J.’s appearance was appropriate
and well-groomed. (Tr. 335-338, 363-83). Additionally, K.L.J. was involved in activities such as
baseball, basketball, riding a bike, taking long walks, playing with neighborhood kids, and reading.
(Tr. 27, 279, 285, 287, 315, 380, 381, 386). These would all assist in maintaining a healthy
emotional and physical state.
Additionally, Plaintiff’s fourth grade teacher, Eddie Gatlin, completed a Teacher
Questionnaire in September 2010 and May 2011. (Tr. 205-212, 222-229). In both questionnaires,
Mr. Gatlin indicated K.L.J. had no problems in the domain of caring for herself. (Tr. 210, 227).
Although Plaintiff relied on reports of Dr. Richard Livingston and licensed counselor Kelly
Webb, which found extreme limitations in the domain of interacting and relating to others and
marked limitations in self care (Tr. 450-453); the ALJ specifically considered these assessments and
declined to give their assessments controlling weight as they were not supported by any clinical or
diagnostic findings and were inconsistent with the other evidence in the record. (Tr. 22-23).
Considering the ALJ’s reasoning and the other findings referenced above, the Court finds the
ALJ’s determination on this issue was properly supported by substantial evidence, and Plaintiff has
provided no basis for reversal on this issue. Further, because Plaintiff has not demonstrated the ALJ
erred when he found K.L.J. did not have a marked or extreme limitation in any of these domains of
functioning, the Court finds Plaintiff has also not demonstrated K.L.J.’s impairments are functionally
equivalent to the Listings.
Based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds that the decision of the ALJ, denying benefits
to Plaintiff on behalf of K.L.J. is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. A
judgment incorporating these findings will be entered pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
52 and 58.
ENTERED this 30th day of June 2014.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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