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Hubbard v. Colvin

United States District Court, Northern District of Alabama, Western Division

May 1, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


Claimant, Derwin Hubbard, commenced this action on September 8, 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 his 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 the ALJ improperly considered the opinion of John Goff, Ph.D., the consultative psychological examiner, and that he should have been found to be disabled under Listing 12.05C, addressing intellectual disability.

Listing 12.05C 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).[1]

The ALJ stated that “claimant does not have a valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ score of 60-through 70 . . . .”[2] But he did not offer any explanation for that finding, and the evidence does not support it. To the contrary, intelligence testing conducted by Dr. John Goff, the consultative psychological examiner, resulted in a full-scale IQ score of 65. There are no other contradictory scores in the record. Moreover, it cannot seriously be contested claimant has physical impairments that impose significant work-related limitations of function. Indeed, the ALJ found that claimant’s chronic sinusitis was a “severe impairment.”[3]

Even so, the ALJ also found that claimant did not satisfy the prefatory criterion of the Listing, i.e., “deficits in adaptive functioning initially manifested during the developmental period.” The court agrees with that conclusion and finds that it is supported by substantial evidence of record. Claimant’s long work history, which apparently ended for reasons unrelated to his level of mental functioning, along with his ability to perform basic personal tasks like driving, paying bills, and performing self-care functions, indicate that he did not suffer from significant adaptive limitations that manifested during the developmental period. See, e.g., Garrett v. Astrue, 244 F. App’x 937, 939 (11th Cir. 2007) (holding that the claimant’s ability to cook simple meals, perform household chores, build model cars, attend church, watch television, play cards, and walk in the mall were inconsistent with a finding of significant impairment of adaptive functioning); Outlaw v. Barnhart, 197 F. App’x 825, 827 (11th Cir. 2006) (stating that the claimant’s “long work history in semi-skilled positions and daily activities were inconsistent with his adult IQ scores, ” which were below 70); Humphries v. Barnhart, 183 F. App’x 887, 889 (11th Cir. 2006) (holding that substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s finding that the claimant did not have deficits in adaptive functioning when she worked in a school cafeteria for 21 years and served as the manager for about 15 years).

Claimant contends that the ALJ should have relied upon the assessment of Dr. John Goff, the consultative psychological examiner, because Dr. Goff found that claimant did experience deficits in adaptive functioning. Social Security regulations provide that, in considering what weight to give any medical opinion (regardless of whether it is from a treating or consultative physician), the Commissioner should evaluate: the extent of the examining or treating relationship between the doctor and patient; whether the doctor’s opinion can be supported by medical signs and laboratory findings; whether the opinion is consistent with the record as a whole; the doctor’s specialization; and other factors. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d). See also Wheeler v. Heckler, 784 F.2d 1073, 1075 (11th Cir. 1986) (“The weight afforded a physician’s conclusory statements depends upon the extent to which they are supported by clinical or laboratory findings and are consistent with other evidence as to claimant’s impairments.”).

Dr. Goff examined claimant on March 22, 2012, upon referral by his attorney, and reviewed claimant’s medical records, although they were “very sparse.”[4] He also reviewed claimant’s work history report, and stated:

I do not think [claimant] knew how to fill out the form and I really cannot read it particularly. Under the job title he has written light foot encon twice and then buddy and hou-encom. [sic] Then he has written the word “lunnutt” [sic] repeatedly, 7 times and he has written the word “turner” as his job title. Sometimes he has written the word “turnne” [sic].[5]

During the examination, claimant reported having graduated from high school, but he did not know whether he received a regular diploma or a certificate of attendance. Claimant did recall repeating the seventh grade and being enrolled in special education ...

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