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Ravizee v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Northern Division

June 30, 2015

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


BERT W. MILLING, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

In this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), Plaintiff seeks judicial review of an adverse social security ruling denying claims for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income (hereinafter SSI ) (Docs. 1, 14). The parties filed written consent and this action has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings and order judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 ( see Doc. 26). Oral argument was heard on June 29, 2015. After considering the administrative record, the memoranda of the parties, and oral argument, it is ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED and that this action be DISMISSED.

This Court is not free to reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983), that must be supported by substantial evidence. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The substantial evidence test requires "the decision under review be supported by evidence sufficient to justify a reasoning mind in accepting it; it is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 918 (11th Cir. 1984), quoting Jones v. Schweiker, 551 F.Supp. 205 (D. Md. 1982).

At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was thirty-nine years old, had completed a high school special education curriculum (Tr. 44), [1] and had previous work experience as a construction worker II and a chain offbearer (Tr. 69-70). In claiming benefits, Plaintiff alleges disability due to arthritis, obesity, poor vision, and mild mental retardation (Doc. 13).

Ravizee filed protective applications for disability benefits and SSI on November 2, 2010, asserting a disability onset date of November 22, 2008 (Tr. 24, 145-57). Benefits were denied following a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who determined that although he could not perform his past relevant work, there were specific medium exertion jobs that Ravizee could perform (Tr. 24-36). Plaintiff requested review of the hearing decision (Tr. 14-20) by the Appeals Council, but it was denied (Tr. 1-5).

Plaintiff claims that the opinion of the ALJ is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Ravizee alleges that the ALJ erred in (1) rejecting the opinion of the only examining psychologist; and (2) determining that he did not meet the requirements of Listing 12.05C (Doc. 14, pp. 8-9). Defendant has responded to-and denies-these claims (Doc. 17). The relevant evidence of record follows.[2]

Records from Linden High School show that Plaintiff completed classwork through the twelfth grade in a special education curriculum (Tr. 218). He failed the Graduation Exam four times, but was presented with a certificate of attendance.

On February 1, 2011, Dr. Stephen J. Robidoux performed a consultative physical examination of Ravizee who complained of problems with his legs, neck pain, and stiffness and numbness in his left arm; he had lost his glasses (Tr. 229-32). The Doctor noted that Plaintiff was in no acute distress with normal, heel and toe walking, normal tendon gait, and that he was able to squat and rise. Ravizee had full range of motion (hereinafter ROM ) in his neck, knees, hips, feet, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers; he had normal grip as well as fine and gross manipulation. Robidoux diagnosed mild degenerative arthritis and poor right eye vision; the Doctor went on to find that Ravizee had no limitations in his ability to sit, stand, walk, run, lift, carry, bend, stoop, handle objects, use hand and foot controls, climb, talk, listen, or travel.

On May 23, 2012, Dr. Harold A. Hatcher performed an eye exam and found that Plaintiff's best-corrected vision was 20/200 in the right eye and 20/40 in the left eye, both near and at a distance (Tr. 235-36, 240-42). Ravizee had no useful binocular vision and his depth perception was only fair; he had amblyopia[3] in the right eye and hyperopia.[4] Hatcher noted that Plaintiff should avoid situations requiring excellent binocular vision.

On August 20, 2012, Psychologist John R. Goff examined Ravizee, using evidence that included school records and a work history report; Plaintiff stated that he had never been treated for mental or emotional difficulties (Tr. 264-69). Goff found Ravizee's discourse to be rapid and circumstantial; he could recite the alphabet and count backwards from twenty. The Psychologist administered the Victoria Symptom Validity Test and determined that Plaintiff's performance was incompatible with malingering. Ravizee underwent the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-IV), scoring a verbal comprehension of 70, a perceptual reasoning of 79, a working memory of 69, and processing speed of 71; his full scale IQ score was 67, placing him in the mildly retarded range. The verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, and processing speed indices were borderline scores while the working memory index fell within the mildly retarded range; the general ability index was 72, falling toward the lower end of the borderline range. The WAIS block design subscale score, assessing visual motor problem solving skills, was higher than expected. The Reitan-Indiana Screening test demonstrated fairly adequate drawings, readable handwriting, and an ability to perform simple mathematical calculations on paper-though not in his head. The Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT-IV) revealed Plaintiff's ability to read and spell at the mid-fifth-grade level and perform math at the end-of-second-grade level; these findings indicated marginal functional literacy, but an inability to perform adequate mathematical transactions daily. The Psychologist noted some validity issues with Ravizee's Personality Assessment Inventory (hereinafter PAI ) scores, but indicated that he had "extreme elevations for conversion and for physiological complaints" (Tr. 268). Goff noted that Plaintiff "was able to understand, follow and carry out simple instructions. He has difficulty with complexities" (Tr. 268). The Psychologist thought Ravizee's preoccupation with his physical condition "would interfere with his ability to deal with the stresses and pressures of the workplace" (Tr. 268). The diagnosis was Somatoform Disorder, NOS, and mild mental retardation. In connection with that examination, Goff completed a mental medical source opinion form in which he found Plaintiff markedly limited in his ability to understand and carry out detailed or complex instructions and use judgment in detailed or complex work-related decisions (Tr. 270-71). Ravizee would be extremely limited in his ability to respond to customary work pressures and maintain attention, concentration, or pace for periods of at least two hours; he had an extreme constriction of interests. Goff found that Plaintiff had suffered these impairments for all of his life and that these findings indicated adaptive functioning deficits, manifested before he turned twenty-two years old, with regard to self-direction, self-care, health, and work.

At the evidentiary hearing, the ALJ questioned Sydney Gardner, a psychological expert (hereinafter PE ), who stated that Ravizee had no diagnosis of an emotional impairment and no history of mental health treatment (Tr. 61-66). The PE stated that Psychologist Goff's somatoform disorder diagnosis was inconsistent with the record evidence because Plaintiff did not seek extensive medical treatment for physical ailments and pain that would demonstrate an obsessive focus with them. Gardner stated that although Plaintiff had "a history of special education and... IQ scores in the borderline range, consistent with his overall adaptive abilities, " he had no history of mental retardation and his work history and adaptive abilities belied such a diagnosis (Tr. 62, 63). The PE stated that Plaintiff's reasoning, judgment, and comprehension and use of grammar and vocabulary were higher than one would expect of a mentally retarded person. Gardner indicated that the invalidity of the PAI might call into question Ravizee's IQ test scores. On questioning by Plaintiff's Attorney, the PE acknowledged that some mentally retarded people would likely be placed in a special education curriculum but could function independently (Tr. 66-67).

This concludes the Court's summary of the evidence.[5]

Ravizee claims that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of the only examining psychologist (Doc. 14, pp. 4-8) and in determining that he did not meet the requirements of Listing 12.05C (Doc. 14, pp. 8-9). As these claims are interdependent, the Court will discuss them together, beginning with the latter.

Subsection C of Listing 12.05 requires "[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. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, Listing 12.05C (2014). The Court notes that Ravizee bears the burden of proving his impairment meets-or medically equals-a ...

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