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J.B. v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

March 20, 2018

J.B., By next friend Patricia Peña, Plaintiff,


          DAVID E. JONES United States Magistrate Judge.

         Patricia Peña alleges that her minor son, J.B., is disabled because he suffers from several mental impairments that seriously interfere with his functioning. She sought supplemental security income on his behalf, but an administrative law judge (ALJ) denied the application, finding that J.B.'s impairments did result in marked or severe functional limitations. Ms. Peña now seeks judicial review of that decision.

         Ms. Peña generally argues that the ALJ did not fully consider how J.B.'s impairments affect his daily life. The Commissioner contends that the ALJ did not commit an error of law in reaching his decision and that the decision is otherwise supported by substantial evidence. For the reasons that follow, the Court agrees with the Commissioner and therefore will affirm her decision denying J.B. disability benefits.

         I. Background

         J.B. was born on September 2, 2005. Transcript 35, ECF Nos. 15-2-15-12. On June 29, 2012, J.B.'s mother, Patricia Peña, applied for supplemental security income on his behalf. See Tr. 198-206 & 209-28. Ms. Peña alleged that J.B. was disabled as of August 1, 2008, on account of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a learning disorder. Tr. 219 & 223. After the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the application initially, Tr. 63-72, and upon reconsideration, Tr. 73-84, Ms. Peña requested a hearing before an ALJ, see Tr. 110-15.

         The administrative hearing was held on November 10, 2015, before ALJ Brent Bedwell. Tr. 30-62. J.B. had a non-attorney representative at the hearing. See Tr. 30-33, 107-09 & 194-96. At the time of the hearing, J.B. was in fourth grade. Tr. 35. He was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his mother, older sister, grandparents, and “dede.” Tr. 40 & 45. J.B. testified that he did “good” in school but that he got in trouble for being bad, disrespecting his teacher, and running in the hall. Tr. 35-37. He had several school friends and spent his free time playing with his cousin. Tr. 35-36 & 42. Ms. Peña testified that her son struggled in school and had many behavior problems, though he was doing better than the preceding schoolyear. Tr. 48-50. She indicated that J.B. did not care about consequences and that he had talked about hurting himself in the past. Tr. 55 & 57-58. Ms. Peña described her son as being very defensive, angry, aggressive, and disrespectful. Tr. 52-53.

         The ALJ followed the three-step sequential evaluation process, and on November 27, 2015, he issued a decision unfavorable to J.B. Tr. 9-29. The ALJ determined that (1) J.B. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his application date; (2) J.B. suffered from five “severe” impairments: ADHD, mood disorder/depression, conduct disorder (impulse control and/or oppositional defiant disorder), borderline intellectual functioning, and a learning disorder; and (3) J.B. did not suffer from an impairment or combination of impairments that met, medically equaled, or functionally equaled the severity of a presumptively disabling impairment. See Tr. 12-25. Based on those findings, the ALJ concluded that J.B. was not disabled.

         Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Peña's request for review, see Tr. 1-7 & 314, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, see Loveless v. Colvin, 810 F.3d 502, 506 (7th Cir. 2016).

         Ms. Peña filed this action as next friend of J.B. on February 13, 2017, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Complaint, ECF No. 1. The matter was reassigned to this Court after the parties consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction. See Consent to Proceed Before a Magistrate Judge, ECF Nos. 5 & 6 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b)). The Commissioner has filed a brief in support of the ALJ's decision. Defendant's Memorandum in Support of the Commissioner's Decision, ECF No. 25. Ms. Peña, who is proceeding without the assistance of counsel, has filed several letters in support of her son's appeal, see ECF Nos. 20, 22 & 23, as well as additional evidence she would like the Court to consider, see ECF Nos. 7, 12-13 & 16-17.

         II. Standard of Review

         “Judicial review of Administration decisions under the Social Security Act is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).” Allord v. Astrue, 631 F.3d 411, 415 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d 1155, 1160 (7th Cir. 2010)). Pursuant to sentence four of § 405(g), federal courts have the power to affirm, reverse, or modify the Commissioner's decision, with or without remanding the matter for a rehearing.

         Section 205(g) of the Act limits the scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. See § 405(g). As such, the Commissioner's findings of fact shall be conclusive if they are supported by “substantial evidence.” See § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1120-21 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)) (other citations omitted). The ALJ's decision must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence, “even if an alternative position is also supported by substantial evidence.” Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 699 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Arkansas v. Oklahoma, 503 U.S. 91, 113 (1992)).

         In reviewing the record, courts “may not re-weigh the evidence or substitute [their] judgment for that of the ALJ.” Skarbek v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 500, 503 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003)). Rather, reviewing courts must determine whether the ALJ built an “accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and the result to afford the claimant meaningful judicial review of the administrative findings.” Beardsley v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 834, 837 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Blakes v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 565, 569 (7th Cir. 2003) and Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir. 2001)). The ALJ's decision must be reversed “[i]f the evidence does not support the conclusion.” Beardsley, 758 F.3d at 837 (citing Blakes, 331 F.3d at 569). Likewise, reviewing courts must remand “[a] decision that lacks adequate discussion of the issues.” Moore, 743 F.3d at 1121 (citations omitted).

         Reversal also is warranted “if the ALJ committed an error of law or if the ALJ based the decision on serious factual mistakes or omissions, ” regardless of whether the decision is otherwise supported by substantial evidence. Beardsley, 758 F.3d at 837 (citations omitted). An ALJ commits an error of law if his decision “fails to comply with the Commissioner's regulations and rulings.” Brown v. Barnhart, 298 F.Supp.2d 773, 779 (E.D. Wis. 2004) (citing Prince v. Sullivan, 933 F.2d 598, 602 (7th Cir. 1991)). Reversal is not required, however, if the error is ...

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