Regs do not require ALJ to make separate findings within age groups, says Seventh Circuit
Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Regs do not require ALJ to make separate findings within age groups, says Seventh Circuit

By Payroll and Entitlements Editorial Staff

In order to determine whether a minor’s severe impairment, or combination of impairments, functionally equals a listed impairment, an ALJ considers six domains of functioning, including selfcare, relating to others, and overall health. The ALJ is required to evaluate the child’s functioning as compared to other children their age. Here, the ALJ determined that the minor child did not qualify for disability benefits until second grade. His mother argued that her child’s limitations were present prior to that time and sought benefits back to the first year of the child’s life. Specifically, she contended that the ALJ failed to properly analyze and make findings for all six of the functional equivalence domains specific to each of her son’s age ranges. However, the regulations do not require that an ALJ make separate findings within each of the different age groups provided that relevant evidence from each age group is considered. The court noted that the regulations identify the categories as examples of appropriate functioning at different ages, but do not suggest that an ALJ must articulate separate findings for each one. The ALJ compared the child’s functioning to typical children his age without impairments in each of the three age categories applicable to the claimant for every domain. Moreover, the ALJ cited evidence covering the entire time span from the time of the application at age one until the claimant was found disabled just prior to second grade.

The claimant’s mother also argued that the denial of retroactive benefits violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment because it punishes young, poor children for the tardiness of their parents or forces the parents to apply for benefits before they are even sure a disability exists. The court applied a rational basis scrutiny to review the equal protection claim. There were several rational bases identified by the court for not providing disability benefits retroactively before application. The court noted that Social Security benefits are means tested, making retrospective determinations difficult to prove, and the current rule incentivizes prompt applications to serve the law’s purpose of helping people meet their basic food, clothing, and shelter needs. The court concluded that the challenged statute and regulations did not violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection and the ALJ’s evaluation was sufficient to meet regulatory requirements. The decision of the district court was affirmed (L.D.R. v. Berryhill, CA-7, No. 18-1763, April 15, 2019).

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