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Sandidge v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division

August 30, 2016

Pearlie Sandidge, o/b/o A.J., a minor child. Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross Motions for Summary Judgment (dkts. 13 and 15), the Report & Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Robert S. Ballou (dkt. 21, hereinafter “R&R”), and Plaintiff's Objections to the R&R (dkt. 22, hereinafter “Objections to R&R”). Pursuant to Standing Order 2011-17 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), the Court referred this matter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Ballou for proposed findings of fact and a recommended disposition. Judge Ballou filed his R&R, advising this Court to deny Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and grant the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff timely filed his Objections, obligating the Court to undertake a de novo review of those portions of the R&R to which objections were made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Farmer v. McBride, 177 F. App'x 327, 330 (4th Cir. 2006). For the following reasons, I will overrule Plaintiff's Objections and adopt Judge Ballou's R&R in full.

         I. Background

         Because Plaintiff does not object to the R&R's recitation of the factual background, I incorporate that summary into this opinion by reference. (See dkt. 21 at 4-7).

         A. The ALJ's Decision

         On January 22, 2014, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Marc Mates held a hearing to consider Sandidge's disability claim on behalf of A.J., a minor. R. 27-46. Counsel represented A.J. at the hearing, which included testimony from Sandidge, A.J.'s mother. On December 23, 2013, the ALJ entered his decision denying Sandidge's claim. R. 9-26.

         The ALJ analyzed Sandidge's claim under the required three-step inquiry. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. First, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. If so, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a), (b). Next, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant suffers from “an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe”; if not, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a), (c). To qualify as a severe impairment, a condition must cause more than a minimal effect on the claimant's ability to function. 20 C.F.R. § 404.924(c). If an impairment is “a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities that causes no more than minimal functional limitations, ” then it is not severe. Id. If the claimant has a severe impairment, the analysis progresses to step three where the ALJ must consider whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets, medically equals, or functionally equals a listing. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a), (d). If the claimant has such impairment, and it meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled. Id.

         The ALJ found that A.J. suffered from the severe impairment of bilateral clubfeet, but concluded that this impairment did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 16. In making this determination, the ALJ specifically considered 101.01 impairment “of a major peripheral weight-bearing joint, which results in an inability to ambulate effectively.” Id.

         When determining whether an impairment functionally equals a listed condition, the ALJ must consider six relevant domains of functioning: (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 yourself; and (6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1). After considering these functions, the ALJ concluded that A.J.'s impairment of clubfeet was not functionally equivalent to a listed condition. R. 16-26.

         The ALJ concluded that A.J. had “no limitation” in the domains of acquiring and using information; interacting and relating with others; and “less than marked limitation” in attending and completing tasks and moving about and manipulating objects. R. 22-25.

         Thus, the ALJ determined A.J. was not disabled. After the Appeals Council denied Sandidge's request for review, this appeal followed.

         C. Summary Judgment Motions and The Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

         After cross motions for summary judgment were filed, Magistrate Judge Robert S. Ballou held a hearing, (dkt. 19), and on August 2, 2016, entered a report and recommendation.

         Judge Ballou recommends denying Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, and granting the Commissioner's motion. In his R&R, Judge Ballou addressed Plaintiff's contentions that the ALJ erred by determining that A.J. had “less than marked limitation” in moving and manipulating objects and health and well-being. After an extensive review of each argument, ...


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