The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana affirmed a magistrate judge’s decision to deny a woman's application for social security benefits for her prematurely born son.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown ruled on the case on Jan. 14.
Imirah Shante Polk sought supplemental security income (SSI) for her son, stating that the child has not developed at the pace he should after being born prematurely a few months prior. A local agency denied Polk’s application, and she asked for a hearing with the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
While the ALJ found some concerns and limitations with the child, it determined they weren’t severe, meaning the child wasn’t disabled, so it denied the application. Polk then attempted to go to the Appeals Council, but the ALJ’s decision “became the final decision of the commissioner” once the Appeals Council rejected the review.
Polk then filed a complaint asking for judicial review before a U.S. magistrate judge, stating that the ALJ made a mistake when evaluating the child’s delays and impairments. The magistrate judge also sided with the ALJ. Polk filed objections to the magistrate judge’s decision, and the court also sided with the magistrate judge.
In her appeal, Polk claimed the Magistrate Judge made a mistake when it said the Early Steps evaluation didn’t determine the child’s development was delayed. She said the evaluation instead actually proves the child had delays and the ALJ didn’t properly assess it as a serious impairment. Polk claimed the ALJ should have found that the child had issues interacting with others and had concerns with health and physical well-being.
The court first found that the ALJ didn’t incorrectly evaluate the child’s developmental delays as a serious impairment. “The ALJ’s opinion clearly reflects that the ALJ considered all of [the child’s] claimed impairments, including developmental delays, in his assessment of [the child’s] disability,” the court said. “The ALJ’s determination did not turn on whether [the child’s] developmental delays were severe but on subsequent steps in the analysis.” The court added that the ALJ also found the child wasn’t disabled at a certain step because they didn’t have any extreme limitations in the six main areas.
As for Polk’s argument that the ALJ failed to find the child had marked impairments when it comes to interacting with others and their health and physical well-being, the court added that medical records actually showed the child’s interactions with people were getting better. During a well-child visit, the child interacted with his father, who said the child was not only alert but interactive. Doctors at the Child’s Hospital Medical Practice also said the child didn’t show any learning limitations. As for the health and physical well-being category, the court said the evidence backed ALJ’s finding.
While the court sustained Polk’s objection to reject the report and recommendation with the argument that there isn’t any evidence to prove the child suffered developmental delay, the court ultimately sided with the previous rulings and denied Polk’s application.