United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
MICHAEL PUTNAM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
plaintiff, David Key, appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
supplemental security income (“SSI”). Mr. Key
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), 1383(c)(3). The parties
have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned in
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 73; accordingly, the court enters this
memorandum opinion. Based upon the court's review of the
record and the briefs submitted by the parties, the court
finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be
was 26 years old at the time of the Administrative Law
Judge's (“ALJ”) decision, and he has a
tenth-grade education. (Tr. at 33, 50). He has no relevant
past work experience. (Tr. at 33). Mr. Key claims that he
became disabled on August 15, 1994, due to a learning
disability and high blood pressure. (Tr. at 160).
evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of
eighteen, the regulations prescribe a five-step sequential
evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245
F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a
determination of whether the claimant is “doing
substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If he is, the claimant
is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If he
is not, the Commissioner next considers the effect of all of
the claimant's physical and mental impairments combined.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii).
These impairments must be severe and must meet the durational
requirements before a claimant will be found to be disabled.
Id. The decision depends upon the medical evidence
in the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340,
1341 (5th Cir. 1971). If the claimant's impairments are
not severe, the analysis stops. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Otherwise, the
analysis continues to step three, which is a determination of
whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal the
severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the
claimant's impairments fall within this category, he or
she will be found disabled without further consideration.
Id. If they do not, a determination of the
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) will be made, and the analysis proceeds
to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
Residual functional capacity (“RFC”) is an
assessment, based on all relevant evidence, of a
claimant's remaining ability to do work despite his or
her impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a).
fourth step requires a determination of whether the
claimant's impairments prevent him or her from returning
to past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can
still do his past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled
and the evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant cannot
do past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the
fifth step. Id. Step five requires the court to
consider the claimant's RFC, as well as the
claimant's age, education, and past work experience, in
order to determine if he can do other work. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the
claimant can do other work, the claimant is not disabled.
Id. The burden of demonstrating that other jobs
exist which the claimant can perform is on the Commissioner;
and, once that burden is met, the claimant must prove her
inability to perform those jobs in order to be found to be
disabled. Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Mr. Key
has not been under a disability within the meaning of the
Social Security Act from the date of onset through the date
of his decision. (Tr. at 34). He first determined that Mr.
Key has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the
alleged onset of his disability, in that he has never held a
job. (Tr. at 26). According to the ALJ, plaintiff's has
the following “severe” impairments: mild thoracic
kyphosis, mild degenerative disc disease, dysthymic disorder,
borderline intellectual functioning, hypertension,
gastroesophageal reflux disease, osteoarthritis, history of
gastritis, hiatal hernia, and obesity, based on the
requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). (Tr.
at 26). However, he found that these impairments neither meet
nor medically equal any of the listed impairments in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. at 27). The ALJ
found Mr. Key's allegations to be “not entirely
credible, ” citing both the plaintiff's lack of
seeking or receiving medical treatment,  the lack of
objective evidence that confirmed the severity of the
conditions or that the conditions could reasonably be
expected to give rise to the symptoms alleged, and the
opinions of both the medical and psychiatric consultative
examiners. The ALJ determined that Mr. Key has the following
residual functional capacity: light work that is unskilled
and requires no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no
work at protected [sic] heights or with hazardous machinery;
no more than occasional stooping, crouching, or crawling; no
operating of motor vehicles; no more than frequent [sic]
interaction with coworkers and supervisors; and no more than
occasional contact with the general public. (Tr. at 29).
on to the fourth step of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that
Mr. Key had no past relevant work. (Tr. at 33). The ALJ
considered the testimony of a vocational expert, and employed
20 CFR § 404.965 as a guideline for finding that, with
his RFC, Mr. Key is able to perform work in such unskilled
occupations as garment sorter, dog bather, and marker. (Tr.
at 34). He further determined that such jobs exist in a
significant number in the state and nation. (Tr. at 34). The
ALJ concluded his findings by stating that Plaintiff
“has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, since August 27, 2012, ” when he
filed his application. (Tr. at 34).
Standard of Review
court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social
Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of its review is
limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial
evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of
the Commissioner, and (2) whether the correct legal standards
were applied. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 390, 401 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is
“more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as
a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Crawford v. Commissioner of Soc.
Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004), quoting
Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439-40 (11th Cir.
1997). The court approaches the factual findings of the
Commissioner with deference, but applies close scrutiny to
the legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d
1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The court may not decide facts,
weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Id. “The substantial evidence
standard permits administrative decision makers to act with
considerable latitude, and ‘the possibility of drawing
two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not
prevent an administrative agency's finding from being
supported by substantial evidence.'” Parker v.
Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J.,
dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Federal Mar.
Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if
this Court finds that the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's decision, the Court must affirm if the
decision is supported by substantial evidence.
Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400. No decision is automatic,
however, for “despite this deferential standard [for
review of claims] it is imperative that the Court scrutinize
the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of
the decision reached.” Bridges v. Bowen, 815
F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987). Moreover, failure to apply
the correct legal standards is grounds for reversal. See
Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
well established that the burden of showing an entitlement to
benefits is on the claimant. An ALJ has a duty to develop the
record beyond the evidence presented by the claimant in some
instances, but “is not required to order a consultative
examination as long as the record contains sufficient
evidence for the ALJ to make an informed decision.”
Ingram v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d
1253, 1269 (11th Cir. 2001) (finding no duty to order testing
where the record contained “ample evidence”),
citing Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1281 (11th
Cir. 2001). “It is only where a consultative
examination is necessary for the ALJ to make a decision due
to some conflict, ambiguity, or other insufficiency” in
the evidence that an ALJ must order an additional
consultative examination.” Hollis v. Colvin,
2013 WL 5567067 * 4 (S.D. Ala. Oct. 9, 2013). Remand for
further development of the record is necessary only when
“the record reveals evidentiary gaps which result in
unfairness or clear prejudice.” Id. Even then,
it is up to the claimant to “show that the lack of
records created an evidentiary gap, resulting in unfairness
or clear prejudice.” Id., quoting Edwards
v. Sullivan, 939 F.2d 580, 586 (11th Cir. 1991). The ALJ
has no duty to order additional examinations where the
plaintiff “did not satisfy his duty to put any alleged
mental impairments into controversy by adducing competent
evidence of the same.” McCray v. Massanari,
175 F.Supp.2d 1329, 1339 (M.D. Ala. 2001).
is a young man who, at the time of his hearing, was living
with his mother and brother. His mother and sister both
receive disability benefits. Mr. Key has never been employed,
and has never applied for a job. A typical day involves
sitting at home, watching T V, and playing video games. He
occasionally prepares himself a sandwich and sometimes does
dishes. He does not drive or have a driver's license, and
does not leave the house alone, except to go to his
sibling's house. (Tr. at 180). His social contacts are
limited to his siblings, his parents, and his grandfather.
alleges that the ALJ's decision should be reversed and
remanded because, he asserts, the ALJ erred in failing to
properly develop the record. (Doc. 14). Specifically, he
argues that the ALJ erred in failing to order further testing
to determine whether the claimant may meet the diagnosis for
Asperger Syndrome. The first indication that Mr. Key was
alleging as a basis for disability that he had some
autism-related disorder was when his attorney mentioned that
possibility at the beginning of the ALJ's hearing. (Doc.
14, pp. 13-16). In support of the argument that the ALJ
should have ordered additional testing for Asperger's,
plaintiff's counsel has submitted to this court a 2009
magazine article titled “Asperger Syndrome and the
Difficulties of Diagnosing and Treating Related
Conditions.” (Doc. 14-1). In ...