United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
DAVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Mark Antoine Jones (“Plaintiff”) brings this
action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act
(“the Act”), seeking review of the decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security (“the
Commissioner”) denying his claim for a period of
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and
supplemental security income (“SSI”).
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Based on this
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 affirmed.
filed his application for DIB and SSI on July 14, 2015,
alleging a disability onset date of November 22, 2013. (R.
170-1). The Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) denied the initial request for DIB on
August 19, 2015. (R. 179). Subsequently, Plaintiff requested
a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) (R. 229), and ALJ David L. Horton held
the hearing on July 26, 2017. (R. 123). In his decision dated
October 16, 2017, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not
under a disability within the meaning of Sections 216(i),
223(d), or 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. (R. 76).
Because the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review on July 16, 2018, which was the final decision of
the Commissioner (R. 1-4), the Commissioner's decision is
now a proper subject for this court's appellate review.
Statement of Facts
who was born on February 5, 1973, was 42-years-old when he
filed his request for DIB/SSI and 44 at the time of the
ALJ's decision. (R. 76, 171). Plaintiff completed the
tenth grade and held two relevant jobs over fifteen years:
poultry dressing worker and material handler. (R. 141). The
ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from borderline intellectual
functioning, depression, degenerative disc disorder, and
obesity. (R. 68).
Plaintiff has an extensive and diverse medical record that
goes back to March 1998 (R. 765), the relevant facts relate
to Plaintiff's history of intellectual disorders, which
implicates Listing 12.05. Plaintiff visited Dr. Storjohann for
psychological testing on July 29, 2013, after a reference
from his attorney. (R. 1281). Dr. Storjohann administered a
Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Fourth Edition exam
(WAIS-IV) and a Wide Range Achievement Test: Fourth Edition
exam (WRAT4). The WAIS-IV results indicated that Plaintiff
has a full-scale IQ of 76, verbal comprehension skills at the
first percentile, perceptual reasoning skills at the
twenty-fifth percentile, working memory at the ninth
percentile, and processing speed at the twenty-third
percentile. (R. 1281). The WRAT4 exam resulted in an overall
ability in the borderline range, and it detailed that
Plaintiff is in the extremely low range for verbal
comprehension skills, average range for perceptual reasoning
skills, and the low average range for working memory and
processing speed. (R. 1281-2).
first visited Cherokee Etowah DeKalb Mental Health Center
(“CED”) on November 12, 2015, to seek treatment
for depression and anxiety. (R. 764). Subsequently, Plaintiff
returned to CED eight times for treatment from a licensed
therapist until (March 28, 2017). (R. 746-8,
1293-9). Over time, Plaintiff made minimal progress
in coping with his depression. (R. 746, 1293, 1297-8). And,
the therapist indicated after each visit that Plaintiff was
oriented to person, place, time, and situation. (R. 746-8,
1293-9). Also, there is no evidence that Plaintiff
met with Dr. Feist until his final visit to CED in March
2017; instead, various therapists signed the remaining
medical records from CED. (R.1299). Plaintiff now claims that
Dr. Feist was his treating psychiatrist. (Pl.'s Mem. 20).
final page of the record is a portion of a yes/no
questionnaire (the single-page exhibit begins with question
13), which the ALJ determined bears an illegible signature.
(R. 74, 1359). The signee answered that Plaintiff can
understand or carryout very short and simple instructions,
interact with supervisors and co-workers, and maintain
socially appropriate behavior. (R. 1359). The signee also
indicated that Plaintiff cannot maintain attention for at
least two hours, perform activities within a schedule and be
punctual, sustain an ordinary routine without special
supervision, nor adjust to routine and infrequent work
changes; however, the partial form is not accompanied by any
explanation or evidence. (R. 1359).
under the Act is determined under a five-step test. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520. First, the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). “Substantial work
activity” involves significant physical or mental
activities, and “gainful work activity” is work
that is done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572. If
the ALJ finds that the claimant engages in substantial
gainful activity, then the claimant cannot claim disability.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a medically
determinable impairment or a combination of medical
impairments that significantly limits the claimant's
ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). Absent such impairment, the claimant may
not claim disability. Id.
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant's impairment
meets or medically equals the criteria of an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
404.1526. When the claimant meets these criteria, the ALJ
will find that the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
claimant does not fulfill the requirements necessary to be
declared disabled under the third step, the ALJ may still
hold that the claimant is disabled after the next two steps
of the analysis. The ALJ must first determine the
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), which refers to the claimant's
ability to work despite his impairments. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(e). Then, in the fourth step, the ALJ evaluates
whether the claimant has the RFC to perform past relevant
work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the ALJ finds
that the claimant is capable of performing past relevant
work, then the claimant is deemed not disabled. Id.
On the other hand, if the ALJ finds the claimant unable to
perform past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the
final step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).
last portion of the test, the ALJ must decide whether the
claimant is able to perform any other work commensurate with
his RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(g). Here, the burden of proof shifts from the
claimant to the Commissioner to prove the existence, in
significant numbers, of jobs in the national economy that the
claimant can do given his RFC, age, education, and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 404.1560(c).
case, the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff has met the
insured status requirements of the Act through December 31,
2013. (R. 68). Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 22,
2013, the alleged onset date of disability. (R. 68). The ALJ
also determined that Plaintiff has the following medically
determinable severe impairments: borderline intellectual
functioning, depression, degenerative disc disorder, and
obesity. (R. 68). However, the ALJ reasoned that the record
does not demonstrate that Plaintiff has an impairment or
combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the
severity of a listed impairment in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. (R. 69).
considering whether Plaintiff's symptoms were reasonably
consistent with the objective medical evidence and other
evidence based on the requirements of 20 CFR 404.1529 and SSR
16-3p, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light
unskilled work subject to additional limitations. (R. 71).
The ALJ found that Plaintiff's medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some of the
alleged symptoms, but that Plaintiff's statements and
other allegations concerning the intensity, persistence, and
limiting effects of these symptoms were not entirely
consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in
the record. (R. 72).
final step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is not capable of
performing past relevant work. When considering
Plaintiff's age, limited education, work experience, and
RFC, in addition to the Vocational Expert's testimony,
however, the ALJ determined that there are existing jobs in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
can perform. (R. 75-6). Having found that Plaintiff has
limitations that do not rise to the level of a disability and
that he is capable of making a successful adjustment to other
work available in significant numbers in the national
economy, the ALJ held that Plaintiff has not been under a
disability, as defined by the Act, from the alleged onset
date of disability to the date of decision. (R. 69, 76).
Plaintiff's Argument ...