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Engevold v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

August 26, 2014

COURTNEY ENGEVOLD o/b/o E.L., a minor child, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


JON STUART SCOLES, Chief Magistrate Judge.


This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint (docket number 4) filed by Plaintiff Courtney Engevold on behalf of her minor son, E.L., requesting judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision to deny an application for Title XVI supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits for E.L. Engevold asks the Court to reverse the decision of the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") and order the Commissioner to provide SSI benefits for E.L. In the alternative, Engevold requests the Court to remand this matter for further proceedings.


Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), the Commissioner's final determination after an administrative hearing not to award SSI benefits is subject to judicial review to the same extent as provided in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides the Court with the power to: "[E]nter... a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner... with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "The findings of the Commissioner... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive..." Id.

The Court will "affirm the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole." Gates v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 1080, 1082 (8th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). Evidence is "substantial evidence" if a reasonable person would find it adequate to support the ALJ's determination. Id. (citing Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005)); see also Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 963-64 (8th Cir. 2010) ("Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion.' McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000).").

In determining whether the ALJ's decision meets this standard, the Court considers "all of the evidence that was before the ALJ, but it [does] not re-weigh the evidence." Vester v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 886, 889 (8th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). The Court not only considers the evidence which supports the ALJ's decision, but also the evidence that detracts from his or her decision. Moore v. Astrue, 623 F.3d 599, 602 (8th Cir. 2010); see also Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007) (Review of an ALJ's decision "extends beyond examining the record to find substantial evidence in support of the ALJ's decision; [the court must also] consider evidence in the record that fairly detracts from that decision."). In Culbertson v. Shalala, 30 F.3d 934, 939 (8th Cir. 1994), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals explained this standard as follows:

This standard is something less than the weight of the evidence and it allows for the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions, thus it embodies a zone of choice within which the [Commissioner] may decide to grant or deny benefits without being subject to reversal on appeal.'

Id. (quoting Turley v. Sullivan, 939 F.2d 524, 528 (8th Cir. 1991), in turn quoting Bland v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 533, 535 (8th Cir. 1988)). In Casey v. Astrue, 503 F.3d 687 (8th Cir. 2007), the Eighth Circuit further explained that a court "will not disturb the denial of benefits so long as the ALJ's decision falls within the available zone of choice.'" Id. at 691 (citations omitted). "A decision is not outside that zone of choice' simply because [a court] may have reached a different conclusion had [the court] been the fact finder in the first instance." Hacker v. Barnhart, 459 F.3d 934, 936 (8th Cir. 2006). Therefore, "even if inconsistent conclusion may be drawn from the evidence, the agency's decision will be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole." Guilliams, 393 F.3d at 801 (citing Chamberlain v. Shalala, 47 F.3d 1489, 1493 (8th Cir. 1995)); see also Wildman, 596 F.3d at 964 ("If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, we will not reverse the decision merely because substantial evidence would have also supported a contrary outcome, or because we would have decided differently."); Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 522 (8th Cir. 2009) ("If there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's conclusion, we may not reverse even though there may also be substantial evidence to support the opposite conclusion.' Clay v. Barnhart, 417 F.3d 922, 928 (8th Cir. 2005).").


On October 5, 2010, E.L. was born at 31 weeks of gestational age, weighing 3 pounds and 4 ounces. E.L. spent several weeks in the NICU, and was discharged with a diagnosis of multicystic kidney and choroid plexus cyst. On November 4, 2010, E.L. was evaluated by Dr. Aditya Sukhwal, M.D., for his one-month check-up. The examination was unremarkable, except for a blocked tear duct and small umbilical hernia.

On December 2, 2010, E.L. was referred to Dr. John Kryger, M.D., for evaluation of his kidneys. Upon examination, Dr. Kryger found that E.L. had one non-functioning kidney and one normal kidney. Otherwise, Dr. Kryger noted that E.L. was in "good general health." Dr. Kryger recommended conservative treatment for E.L.'s kidney.

On December 10, 2010, E.L. returned to Dr. Sukhwal for his two-month check-up. Upon examination, Dr. Sukhwal determined that E.L. was a "healthy" two-month old. On January 12, 2011, E.L. returned to Dr. Sukhwal for evaluation of a right inguinal hernia. Because the hernia was increasing in size, Dr. Sukhwal referred E.L. to Dr. Leonard L. Go, M.D., for consultation. Dr. Go noted that E.L.'s physical exam was normal, except for the right inguinal hernia. Dr. Go recommended surgical repair. Surgery was performed without complication on February 11, 2011. On March 23, 2011, E.L. returned to Dr. Sukhwal for a routine child health examination. Dr. Sukhwal found that E.L. was a "healthy" five-month old.

On April 5, 2011, Dr. Mary N. Harkness, M.D., reviewed E.L.'s medical records and filled out a "Childhood Disability Evaluation Form" for Disability Determination Services ("DDS"). Dr. Harkness found that E.L.'s impairments were prematurity and multicystic kidney. Dr. Harkness determined that E.L.'s impairments were severe, but did not meet, medically equal, or functionally equal the Social Security Listings. Dr. Harkness found that E.L. had no limitations in acquiring and using information, attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating with others, moving about and manipulating objects, and self care. Dr. Harkness further determined that E.L. had a marked limitation in health and physical well-being. E.L.'s marked limitation was based on his premature birth and right multicystic kidney. Dr. Harkness noted, however, that on a recent function report E.L.'s mother showed no concerns about his health or development. Similarly, Dr. Harkness also pointed out that at E.L.'s most recent check-up, his mother had no complaints or concerns.

On October 12, 2011, E.L. had a 12-month child health evaluation performed by Dr. Karen Scott, M.D., a new treating doctor. In a pediatric health history form filled out by E.L.'s mother for Dr. Scott, E.L.'s mother noted no "particular concerns regarding [E.L.'s] health or development."[1] Upon examination, Dr. Scott found E.L.'s growth and development to be "fine." E.L. returned to Dr. Scott for an 18-month wellness evaluation on March 27, 2012. Upon examination, Dr. Scott found E.L.'s growth ...

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