Mitchell v. Astrue
ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION of the Magistrate Judge as to plaintiff's challenges to the ALJ's evaluation under listing § 109.08...the Commissioner's decision if AFFIRMED. Signed by Honorable Joe Heaton on 06/20/2011. (lam)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMA
SAMANTHA CAROL MITCHELL,
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration,
Plaintiff Samantha Carol Mitchell filed this action seeking judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her application
for supplemental security income benefits. Plaintiff’s grandmother applied for benefits on
her behalf because she was at that time under the age of 18. Consistent with 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B), the case was referred to Magistrate Judge Doyle W. Argo, who recommends
that the Commissioner’s decision be affirmed.
Plaintiff claims she is disabled due to diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, obesity,
depression and other ailments. After plaintiff’s application for benefits was denied initially
and on reconsideration, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). Following the hearing the ALJ found that plaintiff’s diabetes mellitus,
hypothyroidism, migraine headaches, reactive depression and obesity qualified as severe
impairments at step two of the three-step sequential evaluation process used to determine
whether an adolescent is considered disabled. However, at step three the ALJ found that
plaintiff was not disabled. He concluded that plaintiff’s impairments alone or combined
were not severe enough to meet, medically equal or functionally equal any of the listed
impairments. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for review, so the ALJ’s
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.
In reviewing the ALJ’s decision, the court “neither reweigh[s] the evidence nor
substitute[s] [its] judgment for that of the agency. Instead, [it] review[s] the ALJ’s decision
only to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the
record and whether the correct legal standards were applied.” Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d
1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (internal citation and quotations omitted).
Plaintiff raises two issues on appeal – that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate her
diabetes mellitus under Listing 109.08 and failed to consider the combined effect of
plaintiff’s diabetes mellitus and obesity. The magistrate judge rejected both arguments. He
determined the ALJ properly analyzed plaintiff’s diabetes mellitus under the applicable
listing. He concluded the ALJ correctly noted the requirements of the listing and that his
finding that there was no evidence of any of the four factors was adequately supported by the
record. The magistrate judge also disagreed with plaintiff’s assertion that the ALJ had failed
to evaluate the functional consequences of her obesity. He concluded the ALJ complied with
Social Security Ruling 02-1p and that his decision was supported by substantial evidence.
Plaintiff has objected to the Report and Recommendation. Initially she claims the
magistrate judge erred by relying on Nielson v. Sullivan, 992 F.2d 1118 (10th Cir. 1993), as
that case involved an adult with a spinal condition. However, the magistrate judge cited
Nielson solely as support for the Commissioner’s assertion that plaintiff has the burden of
proof at the listings level of the evaluation process. Plaintiff has not provided any authority
that “there is no shifting to the Plaintiff [of] the burden of proof at these three steps of the
sequential analysis for a child’s disability claim.” Plaintiff’s objection, p. 3. The authority
is to the contrary. See Espinosa v. Astrue, 2009 WL 331600, at *2 (M.D.Fla. 2009) (In case
involving a minor child’s appeal of the denial of her claim for supplemental security income
benefits, the court noted that “[c]laimants bear the burden of proof as to whether their
‘impairment meets or exceeds an impairment in the listings[.]’”) (quoting Maffia v. Comm’r
of Soc. §., 291 F. App’x 261, 263 (11th Cir.2008) (per curiam)). Plaintiff’s reliance on
language in 20 CFR § 416.924(a) to the effect that the Commissioner/ALJ must make certain
determinations is misplaced. The fact that the ALJ makes certain decisions is not a statement
of which party bears the burden of proof.
Plaintiff essentially reurges the arguments she presented to the magistrate judge.
Having reviewed the record and considered plaintiff’s arguments, the court agrees with the
magistrate judge’s rejection of her challenges to the ALJ’s evaluation of her diabetes mellitus
under listing § 109.08 and his consideration of the combined effect of her diabetes mellitus
Accordingly, the court adopts Magistrate Judge Argo’s Report and
Recommendation. The Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated this 20th day of June, 2011.
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