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Ford v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

February 10, 2015

BRENDA LISA FORD, Claimant,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

C. LYNWOOD SMITH, Jr., District Judge.

Claimant, Brenda Lisa Ford, commenced this action on June 12, 2014, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner, affirming the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and thereby denying her claim for a period of disability, disability insurance, and supplemental security income benefits. For the reasons stated herein, the court finds that the Commissioner's ruling is due to be affirmed.

The court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of review is limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the Commissioner, and whether correct legal standards were applied. See Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Tieniber v. Heckler, 720 F.2d 1251, 1253 (11th Cir. 1983).

Claimant contends that the Commissioner's decision is neither supported by substantial evidence nor in accordance with applicable legal standards. Specifically, claimant contends that: (1) she should have been found to be disabled under Listing 12.05C, addressing intellectual disability; (2) the Appeals Council should have considered new and additional evidence that established her disability; (3) the ALJ improperly considered the opinion of her treating physician; (4) the ALJ improperly considered her subjective complaints of pain; (5) she should have been found disabled under Medical-Vocational Rule 201.18; and (6) the Commissioner should have "reopened" a previous administrative decision from October 4, 2010.[1]

1. Listing 12.05C

Claimant asserts that she should have been found disabled pursuant to Listing 12.05C, addressing intellectual disability, which states as follows:

Intellectual disability. Intellectual disability refers to significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning with deficits in adaptive functioning initially manifested during the developmental period; i.e., the evidence demonstrates or supports onset of the impairment before age 22.
The required level of severity for this disorder is met when the requirements in A, B, C, or D are satisfied.
....
C. A valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70 and a physical or other mental impairment imposing an additional and significant work-related limitation of function....

20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, appx. 1, § 12.05 (listings) (italics in original, ellipses supplied).[2]

The ALJ found that the "C" criteria of this listing had not been satisfied because "claimant does not have a valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70 and a physical or other mental impairment imposing an additional and significant work-related limitation of function."[3] That statement, standing alone, is not supported by the record. The ALJ acknowledged that claimant received a full-scale IQ score of 68 when she was in school, [4] and it cannot be denied that claimant has physical impairments that impose significant work-related limitations of function. Indeed, the ALJ found that claimant had the severe impairments of arthritis, obesity, pain syndrome, and depression, in addition to her borderline intellectual functioning.[5] The ALJ's residual functional capacity finding also included significant limitations, including lifting restrictions and postural and environmental limitations.[6]

The ALJ also found that the prefatory criteria for Listing 12.05 had not been satisfied. The first aspect of that finding - that claimant had failed to allege onset of mental limitations prior to age 22 - also is not supported by the record. Claimant's full-scale IQ score of 68 dates back to her school days, when she obviously was less than 22 years old.

The second aspect of the ALJ's finding about the prefatory criteria is correct, however. The ALJ found that claimant had "engaged in education and work activities inconsistent with limitations in adaptive functioning that would show [intellectual disability.]"[7] That finding is consistent with Eleventh Circuit precedent, which was summarized in a recent, unreported Circuit opinion: Hickel v. Commissioner of Social Security, 539 F.Appx. 980 (11th Cir. 2013). The binding precedent summarized in that opinion provides

that a valid IQ score of 60 to 70 after age 22 "create[s] a rebuttable presumption of a fairly constant IQ throughout [a claimant's] life." Hodges [ v. Barnhart ], 276 F.3d [1265, ] 1268 [(11th Cir. 2001)] (explaining that, absent evidence of sudden trauma that could cause retardation, a claimant who presents a valid IQ score need not also present evidence that her mental impairment arose before age 22). However, "a valid I.Q. score need not be conclusive of mental retardation where the I.Q. score is inconsistent with other evidence in the record on the claimant's daily activities and behavior." Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992); see also Popp v. Heckler, 779 F.2d 1497, 1499-1500 (11th Cir.1986) (stating that the ALJ may disregard IQ test results that are inconsistent with other record evidence because the regulations require the ALJ to examine intelligence tests and other evidence, such as the medical report and the claimant's daily activities and behavior).

Hickel, 539 F.Appx. at 983-84 (alterations in original) (footnote omitted).[8]

The ALJ's finding also was supported by substantial evidence. The ALJ relied ...


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