Ball v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Abdul K Kallon on 12/3/2015. (YMB)
2015 Dec-03 AM 09:53
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
BRANDY MICHELLE BALL,
Civil Action Number
Brandy Ball brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social
Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking review of the final adverse
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). This
court finds that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) applied the correct legal
standard and that his decision – which has become the decision of the
Commissioner – is supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the court
AFFIRMS the decision denying benefits.
I. Procedural History
Ball filed her application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits and Title
XVI Supplemental Security Income on December 12, 2010, alleging a disability
onset date of December 13, 2010 (which she later amended to May 1, 2012), due to
high blood pressure, back, feet, and joint pain, depression, and ods [sic]. (R. 44,
143). After the SSA denied her application, Ball requested a hearing before an
ALJ. Id. The ALJ subsequently denied Ball’s claim, (R. 41), which became the
final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council refused to grant
review, (R. 1-3). Ball then filed this action pursuant to §205(g) of the Act, 42
U.S.C. §405(g). Doc. 1.
II. Standard of Review
The only issues before this court are whether the record contains substantial
evidence to sustain the ALJ’s decision, see 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Walden v.
Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982), and whether the ALJ applied the
correct legal standards, see Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988);
Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). Title 42 U.S.C. §§405(g)
and 1383(c) mandate that the Commissioner’s “factual findings are conclusive if
supported by ‘substantial evidence.’” Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529
(11th Cir. 1990). The district court may not reconsider the facts, reevaluate the
evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner; instead, it must
review the final decision as a whole and determine if the decision is “reasonable
and supported by substantial evidence.” See id. (citing Bloodsworth v. Heckler,
703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)).
Substantial evidence falls somewhere between a scintilla and a
preponderance of evidence; “[i]t is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person
would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Martin, 849 F.2d at 1529
(quoting Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239) (other citations omitted). If supported by
substantial evidence, the court must affirm the Commissioner’s factual findings
even if the preponderance of the evidence is against the Commissioner’s findings.
See Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529. While the court acknowledges that judicial review
of the ALJ’s findings is limited in scope, it notes that the review “does not yield
automatic affirmance.” Lamb, 847 F.2d at 701.
III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework
To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show “the inability to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which
has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. §416(I). A physical or mental
impairment is “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or
psychological abnormalities which are demonstrated by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(3).
Determination of disability under the Act requires a five step analysis. 20
C.F.R. §404.1520(a)-(f). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in
whether the claimant is currently unemployed;
whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
whether the impairment meets or equals one listed by the Secretary;
whether the claimant is unable to perform his or her past work; and
whether the claimant is unable to perform any work in the national
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). “An affirmative
answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next question, or, on steps
three and five, to a finding of disability. A negative answer to any question, other
than step three, leads to a determination of ‘not disabled.’” Id. at 1030 (citing 20
C.F.R. §416.920(a)-(f)). “Once a finding is made that a claimant cannot return to
prior work the burden shifts to the Secretary to show other work the claimant can
do.” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).
IV. The ALJ’s Decision
In performing the five step analysis, the ALJ found that Ball had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 1, 2012, the alleged onset date,
and therefore met Step One. (R. 46). Next, the ALJ found that Ball satisfied Step
Two because she suffered from the “severe” impairments of lumbago; arthritis;
hypertension; morbid obesity; and major depressive disorder. Id. The ALJ then
proceeded to the next step and found that Ball did not satisfy Step Three since she
“does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments.” (R. 47). Although
the ALJ answered Step Three in the negative, consistent with the law, see
McDaniel, 800 F.2d at 1030, he proceeded to Step Four where he determined that
Ball has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to “perform sedentary work . . .
except that she is limited to no more than occasional contact with coworkers and
she should work with data as opposed to people.” (R. 51). In light of Ball’s RFC,
the ALJ determined that Ball “is unable to perform any past relevant work.” (R.
53). Lastly, in Step Five, the ALJ considered Ball’s age, education, work
experience, and RFC, and determined that “there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that [Ball] can perform.” (R. 54). Therefore, the
ALJ found that Ball had “not been under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, from May 1, 2012, through the date of [the ALJ] decision.” (R. 55).
Ball takes issue with the ALJ’s evaluation of the opinion of examining
psychologist Dr. John R. Goff. See doc. 5 at 4-12. As shown below, none of
Ball’s contentions establishes that the ALJ committed reversible error.
1. The ALJ properly evaluated the opinion of Dr. Goff
Ball first contends that the ALJ focused on only one aspect of the evidence
and failed to properly evaluate the opinion of Dr. Goff. Doc. 8 at 6. Dr. Goff
conducted a consultative psychological examination of Ball and opined that Ball
“is functioning within the low average range of psychometric intelligence,” (R.
370), and has “marked” to “extreme” impairments in her ability to function, (R.
371-373). The court disagrees with Ball’s contention that the ALJ should have
given Dr. Goff’s opinion great weight, see doc. 8 at 6, and finds that the ALJ
properly evaluated Dr. Goff’s opinion. As a threshold matter, the court notes that
the record belies Ball’s contention that the ALJ only focused on one aspect of the
evidence and disregarded Dr. Goff’s opinion. To the contrary, the ALJ states
unequivocally that he “carefully and thoroughly reviewed the record as a whole,”
(R. 51), and discusses the specific findings in Dr. Goff’s evaluation, see (R. 50).
However, the ALJ gave no weight to Dr. Goff’s opinion that Ball had “marked” to
“extreme” impairments in her ability to function, (R. 371-373), because Ball’s
treating physician at Indian Rivers Mental Health Center, Dr. Kazi Ahmad, found
that Ball only had “mild symptoms or some difficulty” in her ability to function1,
(R. 49, 358, 362); see also (R. 359, 361, 511) (longitudinal treatment with no
change in diagnosis), and the substantial weight of the record revealed that Ball
The ALJ correctly gave more weight to Dr. Ahmad. See Boyd. V. Heckler, 704 F.2d 1207 (11th Cir.
2983) (ALJ should give opinion of treating physician significant weight absent good cause).
only had mild difficulties with regard to concentration, persistence, or pace, and
daily living. (R. 47-51). While Ball obviously would have preferred for the ALJ
to adopt Dr. Goff’s opinion, the opinion of a one-time examiner is not entitled to
any special deference or consideration. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1502, 404.1527(c)(2);
Crawford v. Comm’r, of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1160 (11th Cir. 2004) (“The
ALJ correctly found that, because [Dr.] Hartig examined [Claimant] on only one
occasion, her opinion was not entitled to great weight.”). This is especially the
case where, as here, the ALJ ultimately rejected Dr. Goff’s opinion because he
found it inconsistent with the record as a whole, including the records of Ball’s
treating physician. See (R. 50). As the ALJ succinctly put it, “I reject Dr. Goff’s
opinions, which are not consistent with or supported by the record as a whole.”
2. The ALJ committed no error by considering the purpose behind Dr.
Ball’s second contention is that the ALJ erred in considering and
emphasizing that “[Ball] was examined by Dr. Goff not in an attempt to seek
treatment for symptoms, but rather through attorney referral and in connection with
an effort to generate evidence for the current appeal.” Doc. 8 at 6 (quoting (R.
50)). According to Ball, “in the absence of other evidence to undermine the
In light of this statement and the rest of the ALJ’s decision, Ball’s contention that the ALJ’s decision is
not based on substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to state the weight he gave to Dr. Goff’s evaluation and
opinion is unavailing.
credibility of a medical report, the purpose for which the report was obtained does
not provide a legitimate basis for rejecting it.” Id. at 7 (quoting Reddick v. Chater,
157 F.3d 715, 726 (9th Cir. 1998) (emphasis added). However, as discussed in
section V(1) supra, the record, in fact, contains “other evidence” that undermines
the credibility of Dr. Goff’s opinion. Therefore, the ALJ committed no error in
Based on the foregoing, the court concludes that the ALJ’s determination
that Ball is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence, and the ALJ applied
the correct legal standards in reaching this determination. Therefore, the
Commissioner’s final decision is AFFIRMED.
DONE the 3rd day of December, 2015.
ABDUL K. KALLON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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