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Cagle v. Colvin

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

February 26, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


STACI G. CORNELIUS, Magistrate Judge.

The plaintiff, Christopher E. Cagle, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. Mr. Cagle timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies, and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). After consideration of the record and for the reasons stated below, the court is of the opinion that this action is due to be affirmed.

I. Procedural History

Mr. Cagle initially filed an application for SSI benefits on November 11, 2009 (protective filing date), alleging an inability to work because he is a slow learner. (R. 135, 164).[1] After the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied his application, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on November 10, 2011. (R. 31, 52-54, 59). After the hearing, the ALJ found plaintiff had the severe impairment of mild mental retardation, but did not have an impairment or a combination or impairments listed in, or medically equivalent to, one listed in the Listings of Impairments. (R. 16). The ALJ found plaintiff also had the non-severe impairments of lower back pain, obesity, and hypertension. (Id ). The ALJ specifically considered plaintiff's argument that he satisfied the criteria for Listing 12.05C but found plaintiff suffered from no severe impairment other than mild mental retardation. (R. 17). The ALJ also found the criteria for Listings 12.05A and D were not satisfied. (R. 17). Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council, which "found no reason under [its] rules to review the ALJ's decision" and therefore denied plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1). Thus, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Plaintiff then filed the appeal in this court on September 30, 2013, seeking reversal of the Commissioner's decision. (Doc. 1; Doc. 15 at 12). On March 4, 2014, the parties consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 12).

II. Factual Background

At the time he filed his application, Mr. Cagle was thirty-nine years old with a fifth grade education. (R. 24, 33). His only prior work experience was in the heavy unskilled category. (R. 42). He is illiterate, being unable to read or write more than his name. (R. 35). Plaintiff alleges he is unable to work because of trouble with his legs, back, and feet. (R. 38). He can stand for 30 minutes to an hour but only walk to his mailbox before needing to rest. (R. 39). A doctor told him he has high blood pressure, but he takes no medications. (R. 40).

A. Plaintiff's Medical Records

Plaintiff's medical records consist of several consultative evaluations and one emergency room record when he was diagnosed with the flu. (R. 222-224). Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Dana K. Davis, Ph.D., for a psychological evaluation in December 2009. (R. 194). Dr. Davis noted that plaintiff was independent in his activities of daily living and had a driver's license. (R. 195). Plaintiff's only physical complaint was that he "had trouble" with his feet and legs because his feet tended to crack open and bleed. (R. 195). Upon testing, plaintiff was found to have a Full Scale IQ score of 63. (R. 196). Dr. Davis believed plaintiff could respond appropriately to supervision in the right work setting but would need work where he was not required to read anything and where he felt comfortable with simple instructions and supervision. (R. 197).

Plaintiff was sent for a consultative physical examination with Dr. Jose Oblena, M.D. (R. 227). Dr. Oblena noted plaintiff used to receive disability because he could not read or write. (Id. ). Upon examination, Dr. Oblena documented no physical problems but did diagnose plaintiff with high blood pressure and lower back pain. (R. 228). Dr. Oblena also completed a Physical Capacities Evaluation ("PCE") in which he noted plaintiff: (1) could lift 20 pounds occasionally; (2) could lift 10 pounds frequently; (3) could sit for 6 hours in an 8 hour work day; (4) could stand for 4 hours in an 8 hour work day; (5) should avoid dust and fumes; and (6) should only occasionally climb stairs, perform pushing and pulling movements, bend, and reach overhead. (R. 229). The only basis for these limitations was that plaintiff's "feet hurt on prolonged standing." (Id. ). In completing a pain assessment, Dr. Oblena opined that plaintiff was limited by pain which would be exacerbated by physical activity. (R. 230). Although there is no evidence in the record that plaintiff takes any pain medication, Dr. Oblena believed the side effects of plaintiff's pain medication would cause some limitations. (Id. ).

Plaintiff was again seen by Dr. Davis for an additional psychological examination in January 2012. (R. 232). Upon administering the Wechsler Memory Scale testing, Dr. Davis noted plaintiff put forth excellent effort. (R. 234). Plaintiff scored higher than his IQ score would have predicted, as the memory testing scores placed plaintiff in the low average range. (R. 234). Dr. Davis noted these scores suggest no difficulties in the intermediate and short-term memory spheres. (R. 235). She concluded plaintiff's only mental limitation was mild mental retardation. (Id. ). The Medical Source Statement completed by Dr. Davis notes plaintiff would have no limitations in understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions, although he would have moderate to marked limitations with complex instructions. (R. 236).

Plaintiff was also sent to Dr. Morton Rickless, M.D., for a consultative musculoskeletal examination in January 2012. Dr. Rickless found no problems with plaintiff's cervical spine, upper extremities, or lower extremities. (R. 246-247). He noted mild balance scoliosis and tenderness in plainitff's lumbar spine. (R. 247). Dr. Rickless diagnosed plaintiff with chronic lower back pain, obesity, and hypertension but found plaintiff would have no limitations in work-related activities. (R. 247-248). Dr. Rickless also completed a PCE which suggested plaintiff was: (1) limited to lifting and carrying up to 20 pounds continuously and up to 50 pounds frequently; (2) limited to lifting up to 100 pounds rarely but never carrying weights above 50 pounds; and (3) without limitations with regard to standing, walking, or sitting. (R. 240-241).

B. Plaintiff's Testimony

Plaintiff testified his back and leg pain is worse some times than others. (R. 40). Plaintiff was told he has high blood pressure, but he takes no medication to treat it because he "never did get to it." (Id. ). Plaintiff keeps to himself, spending his days walking around and ...

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