Jackson v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING CASE that the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED, costs are taxed against claimant as more fully set out in order. Case reassigned to Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr for all further proceedings. Judge J Foy Guin, Jr no longer assigned to case. Please use case number 2:12-CV-190-CLS on all further proceedings. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 5/6/2013. (AHI)
2013 May-06 PM 02:26
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CHARLES D. JACKSON,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner, Social Security
Case No. 2:12-CV-0190-CLS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Claimant Charles D. Jackson commenced this action on January 17, 2012,
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 supplemental security income benefits. For the
reasons stated herein, the court finds that the Commissioner’s ruling is due to be
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 failed to properly develop the record because he failed
to obtain a medical opinion on the issue of medical equivalence under Listing 12.05C,
governing mental retardation. The ALJ
has an obligation to develop a full and fair record, even if the claimant
is represented by counsel. Cowart v. Schweiker, 662 F.2d 731, 735
(11th Cir. 1981). [Even so, t]he ALJ is not required to seek additional
independent expert medical testimony before making a disability
determination if the record is sufficient and additional expert testimony
is not necessary for an informed decision. Wilson v. Apfel, 179 F.3d
1276, 1278 (11th Cir. 1999) (holding the record, which included the
opinion of several physicians, was sufficient for the ALJ to arrive at a
decision); Holladay v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 1206, 1209-10 (11th Cir. 1988)
(holding the ALJ must order a consultative exam when it is necessary
for an informed decision).
Nation v. Barnhart, 153 F. App’x 597, 598 (11th Cir. 2005) (emphasis and alteration
Here, the record was sufficient for the ALJ to make an informed decision, and
there was no need for the ALJ to seek any additional medical testimony on the issue
of medical equivalence to Listing 12.05C. That listing states as follows:
Mental Retardation. Mental retardation 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
The required level of severity for this disorder is met when the
requirements in A, B, C, or D are satisfied.
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) (all italics in original). With
regard to determining whether claimant’s impairments medically equal the Listing,
Social Security regulations require the following:
§ 416.926 Medical equivalence for adults and children.
(a) How medical equivalence is determined. We will decide that
your impairment(s) is medically equivalent to a listed impairment in
appendix 1 of subpart P of part 404 of this chapter if the medical
findings are at least equal in severity and duration to the listed findings.
We will compare the symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings about
your impairment(s), as shown in the medical evidence we have about
your claim, with the corresponding medical criteria shown for any listed
impairment. When we make a finding regarding medical equivalence,
we will consider all relevant evidence in your case record. Medical
equivalence can be found in two ways:
(1)(i) If you have an impairment that is described in the Listing of
Impairments in appendix 1 of subpart P of part 404 of this chapter, but
(A) You do not exhibit one or more of the medical findings
specified in the particular listing, or
(B) You exhibit all of the medical findings, but one or more
of the findings is not as severe as specified in the listing;
(ii) We will nevertheless find that your impairment is medically
equivalent to that listing if you have other medical findings related to
your impairment that are at least of equal medical significance.
(2) If you have an impairment that is not described in the Listing
of Impairments in appendix 1, or you have a combination of
impairments, no one of which meets or is medically equivalent to a
listing, we will compare your medical findings with those for closely
analogous listed impairments. If the medical findings related to your
impairment(s) are at least of equal medical significance to those of a
listed impairment, we will find that your impairment(s) is medically
equivalent to the analogous listing.
20 C.F.R. § 416.926(a) (italics in original).
The Eleventh Circuit held in Hodges v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1265 (11th Cir.
2001), that, “absent evidence of sudden trauma that can cause retardation, the IQ tests
[revealing a score lower than 70] create a rebuttable presumption of a fairly constant
IQ throughout [the claimant’s] life.” Id. at 1268 (alterations supplied). Therefore,
“a claimant need not present evidence that she manifested deficits in adaptive
functioning prior to the age of twenty-two, when she presented evidence of low IQ
test results after the age of twenty-two.” Id. at 1266. Even so, the court (or the
Commissioner during an administrative proceeding) may consider “evidence of
[claimant’s] daily life to rebut this presumption of mental impairment.” Id. at 1269
The ALJ did not discuss claimant’s disability status under Listing 12.05C, but
there was no need for him to do so because there was no evidence that the Listing was
satisfied, or that claimant had impairments that were medically equivalent to the
Listing.1 Dr. Cynthia A. Neville conducted a consultative psychological examination
on July, 28, 2008. Intelligence testing revealed a Verbal IQ score of 66, and a Full
Scale IQ score of 65, both of which are within the Mild Mental Retardation range,
and a Performance IQ score of 70, which is in the Borderline Intellectual Functioning
Range. Dr. Neville noted that claimant complained of difficulties with his vision, so
she opined that claimant’s scores might be “a mild underestimate of his true
intellectual level [which] probably falls within the Borderline range based on his
history of earning a driver’s license, past employment as a cook, ability to shop, cook,
and do laundry independently, and his performance during the mental status
examination of this assessment.”2 Thus, despite IQ scores that fall within the mental
retardation range, Dr. Neville assessed claimant with Borderline Intellectual
Functioning.3 The ALJ apparently accepted that assessment, given that he did not
find claimant to be disabled under Listing 12.05C. The ALJ’s decision was
consistent with Eleventh Circuit authority. In Popp v. Heckler, 779 F.2d 1497 (11th
Cir. 1986), the Eleventh Circuit held that the mental retardation listing “does not
Likewise, if the ALJ’s failure to address Listing 12.05C was in error, any such error was
harmless, for the reasons discussed above.
Tr. 266-67 (alteration supplied).
require the [Commissioner] to make a finding of mental retardation based on the
results of an IQ test alone.” Id. at 1499 (alteration supplied). If there is a question as
to the validity of the IQ test results, “[t]he ALJ is required to examine the results in
conjunction with other medical evidence and the claimant’s daily activities and
behavior.” Id. at 1500 (alteration supplied).
Claimant complaints that Dr. Neville’s assessment cannot constitute substantial
evidence of no mental retardation because Dr. Neville did not have access to
claimant’s school records. It is true that Dr. Neville did not review claimant’s school
records,4 but it is unclear how those records would have affected Dr. Neville’s
assessment if she had reviewed them. To the contrary, the school records actually
support Dr. Neville’s finding of Borderline Intellectual Functioning. In 1982, when
claimant was in 8th grade, he received a Verbal Scale IQ score of 69, a Performance
Scale IQ score of 80, and a Full Scale IQ score of 72, which placed him in the
Borderline Intellectual Functioning range.5
Claimant was referred for special
education placement,6 but it ultimately was determined that he should be placed in the
regular curriculum because he had been doing well in school.7 Because the IQ scores
See id. (“No results of any previous intellectual assessments were made available to the
undersigned clinician with which to gauge the consistency of the current findings.”).
Tr. 191-92, 194.
found in claimant’s school records actually are higher than those found by Dr.
Neville, and because there is additional evidence of claimant’s ability to function at
a higher level than mental retardation, it is difficult to understand how those scores
might have caused Dr. Neville to conclude that claimant was functioning at a lower
intellectual level than she had assessed in her report.
In summary, there is nothing in the record, and nothing that claimant asserts
should have been in the record, to cause this court to question Dr. Neville’s
assessment of Borderline Intellectual Functioning. Thus, the ALJ’s finding of
Borderline Intellectual Functioning was supported by substantial evidence, there was
no need for him to obtain additional medical testimony, and his failure to consider
claimant’s disability under Listing 12.05C was not in error. The ALJ also did not err
in failing to consider whether claimant medically equaled the Listing, because there
also is no evidence of any medical findings that are at least of equal medical
significance to the findings required by the Listing.
Based on the foregoing, the Commissioner’s finding that claimant is not
disabled is supported by substantial evidence and in accordance with applicable law.
The decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. Costs are taxed against claimant.
The Clerk of Court is directed to close this file.
DONE this 6th day of May, 2013.
United States District Judge
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