Hammer v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION - Based on the foregoing, and upon careful consideration of the administrative record and memoranda of the parties, decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Hamner's claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits is AFFIRMED and this action DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. A separate order will be entered. Signed by Magistrate Judge John H England, III on 10/16/2020. (KEK)
2020 Oct-16 PM 03:31
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
WILLIAM SCOTT HAMNER,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
Case Number: 7:19-cv-00644-JHE
Plaintiff William Scott Hamner (“Hamner”) seeks review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
§ 205(g) of the Social Security Act, of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”), denying his application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1). Hamner timely pursued and exhausted his administrative
remedies. This case is therefore ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The
undersigned has carefully considered the record, and, for the reasons stated below, the
Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.
I. Factual and Procedural History
On September 18, 2013, Hamner protectively filed an application for a period of disability
and DIB. (Tr. 277-83). After the agency denied his application (tr. 120-36, 165-69), Hamner
requested and appeared at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in April 2015.
In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 73, the parties have voluntarily consented to have a United States Magistrate Judge
conduct any and all proceedings, including trial and the entry of final judgment.
(Tr. 46-85, 170-71).2 The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on July 2, 2015, finding Hamner
not disabled. (Tr. 140-52). The Appeals Council subsequently granted Hamner’s request for
review, vacated the hearing decision, and remanded the case for further consideration. (Tr. 15762). On remand, the case was assigned to a different ALJ, who held a hearing on July 24, 2017,
and who issued an unfavorable decision on June 14, 2018. (Tr. 17-39). Although Hamner
requested review of the ALJ’s decision, the Appeals Council denied his request on April 19, 2019.
(Tr. 1-3). On that date, the ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. On
April 29, 2019, Hamner initiated this action. (See doc. 1).
Hamner was forty-five-years-old when he allegedly became disabled on September 18,
2013,3 and forty-eight-years-old when his insured status expired on December 31, 2015. (Tr. 91,
277, 301). Hamner completed high school through special education classes, received vocational
training in small engine repair from Shelton State Community College, and has past relevant work
experience as a welder helper, vending machine servicer, and building maintenance laborer. (Tr.
92-93, 110-11, 334, 342-49). In his Disability Report, Hamner alleges he is unable to work
because of back and knee problems, mental problems, foot problems, and arthritis. (Tr. 333).
II. Standard of Review4
The court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision is narrowly circumscribed. The
The administrative hearings are mislabeled in the Court Transcript Index. The
transcript of the April 2015 hearing is at the tab for the July 2017 hearing, and vice versa.
In his application, Hamner alleged that he became disabled on December 1, 2010 (tr.
277); however, at the April 2015 hearing, he amended his onset date to September 18, 2013 (tr.
In general, the legal standards applied are the same whether a claimant seeks DIB or
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). However, separate, parallel statutes and regulations exist
for DIB and SSI claims. Therefore, citations in this opinion should be considered to refer to the
appropriate parallel provision as context dictates. The same applies to citations for statutes or
regulations found in quoted court decisions.
function of this Court is to determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by
substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This Court must
“scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported
by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983).
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate
to support a conclusion.” Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id.
This Court must uphold factual findings supported by substantial evidence. “Substantial
evidence may even exist contrary to the findings of the ALJ, and [the reviewing court] may have
taken a different view of it as a factfinder. Yet, if there is substantially supportive evidence, the
findings cannot be overturned.” Barron v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 227, 230 (11th Cir. 1991). However,
the Court reviews the ALJ’s legal conclusions de novo because no presumption of validity attaches
to the ALJ’s determination of the proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d
528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ’s application of the law, or if the
ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning for determining the proper legal analysis
has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ’s decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143,
1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework
To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a period of
disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations
promulgated thereunder.5 The Regulations define “disabled” as “the inability to do any substantial
The “Regulations” promulgated under the Social Security Act are listed in 20 C.F.R. Parts
400 to 499.
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 twelve (12) months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To establish entitlement to disability
benefits, a claimant must provide evidence of a “physical or mental impairment” which “must
result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.
The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:
whether the claimant is currently employed;
whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
whether the claimant’s impairment meets or equals an impairment listed
by the [Commissioner];
whether the claimant can perform his or her past work; and
whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national
Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing to the formerly applicable C.F.R.
section), overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561, 562-63 (7th Cir. 1999);
accord McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). “Once the claimant has satisfied
steps One and Two, she will automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed
impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment but cannot perform her work, the
burden shifts to the [Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some other job.” Pope,
998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995). The Commissioner
must further show such work exists in the national economy in significant numbers. Id.
IV. Findings of the Administrative Law Judge
After consideration of the entire record and application of the sequential evaluation
process, the ALJ made the following findings:
At Step One, the ALJ found Hamner last met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act on December 31, 2015 (his date last insured or “DLI”), and that Hamner had not
engage in substantial gainful activity from his amended alleged onset date of September 18, 2013
through his DLI. (Tr. 20). At Step Two, the ALJ found Hamner has the following severe
impairments: impaired intellectual functioning, but not an intellectual disorder; possible autism
spectrum disorder; degenerative joint disease; disorder of the spine; and thyroid disorder. (Tr. 2126). The ALJ also found that, through his DLI, Hamner has the following non-severe impairment:
history of depressive disorder. (Tr. 26). At Step Three, the ALJ found Hamner did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 26-31).
Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined Hamner’s residual functioning
capacity (“RFC”), which is the most a claimant can do despite his impairments. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(1). The ALJ determined that, through his DLI, Hamner had the RFC to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a), except for the following additional
restrictions: he can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never ropes, ladders or scaffolds. He
can frequently balance and stoop, occasionally kneel and never crouch or crawl. He can constantly
reach, handle, finger, and feel. He can understand, remember and carry out simple work
instructions, but not instructions that are more detailed or complex. He can occasionally interact
with the public and frequently interact with co-workers and supervisors. He can maintain attention
and concentration sufficient to perform work at this level for at least two hours at one time with
normal breaks throughout an eight-hour day. (Tr. 31-36).
At Step Four, the ALJ determined, through the date last insured, Hamner was unable to
perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 36-37). At Step Five, the ALJ determined, based on
Hamner’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs exist in significant numbers in the
national economy Hamner could perform. (Tr. 37-38). Therefore, the ALJ determined Hamner
has not been under a disability and denied Hamner’s claim. (Tr. 38).
Although the court may only reverse a finding of the Commissioner if it is not supported
by substantial evidence or because improper legal standards were applied, “[t]his does not relieve
the court of its responsibility to scrutinize the record in its entirety to ascertain whether substantial
evidence supports each essential administrative finding.” Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838
(11th Cir. 1982) (citing Strickland v. Harris, 615 F.2d 1103, 1106 (5th Cir. 1980)). The court,
however, “abstains from reweighing the evidence or substituting its own judgment for that of the
[Commissioner].” Id. (citation omitted).
Here, substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s determination Hamner failed to demonstrate
a disability, and the ALJ applied the proper standards to reach this conclusion. Specifically,
Hamner challenges the ALJ’s conclusion that his intellectual impairments did not satisfy the
requirements of Listing 12.05(B) as set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, is not
supported by substantial evidence and based on improper legal standards. (Doc. 10 at 6-8).
A. Whether Hamner’s Intellectual Impairments Met or Medically Equaled § 12.05(B)
of the Listing of Impairments
To meet a listing, a claimant must have a diagnosis included in the Listings and provide
medical reports documenting that his or her condition meets the specified criteria of a listed
impairment and the duration requirement. See 20 C.R.F. § 404.1512(a)-(d); Wilson v. Barnhart,
284 F.3d 1219, 1224 (11th Cir. 2002). “An impairment that meets only some of the Listing
requirements, no matter how severe, does not qualify.” Prince v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 551
F. App’x 967, 969 (11th Cir. 2014); see 20 C.F.R. §404.1525(c)(3).
The Commissioner published final rules revising section 12.00 of the Listings on
September 26, 2016. See Revised Medical Criteria for Evaluating Mental Disorders, 81 Fed. Reg.
66,138 (Sept. 26, 2016). These rules became effective on January 17, 2017, and apply “to claims
that [were] pending on or after the effective date.” Id. Hamner challenges the ALJ’s application
of § 12.05(B), which states as follows:
B. Satisfied by 1, 2, and 3 (see 12.00H)
1. Significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning evidenced by a
a. A full scale (or comparable) IQ score of 70 or below on an
individually administered standardized test of general intelligence;
b. A full scale (or comparable IQ score of 71-75 accompanied by a
verbal or performance IQ score (or comparable part score) of 70 or
below on an individually administered standardized test of general
2. Significant deficits in adaptive functioning currently manifested by
extreme limitation in one, or marked limitation of two, of the following
areas of mental functioning:
a. Understand, remember, or apply information (see 12.00E1); or
b. Interact with others (see 12.00E2); or
c. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace (see 12.00E3); or
d. Adapt or manage oneself (see 12.00E4); and
3. The evidence about your current intellectual and adaptive functioning and
about the history of your disorder demonstrates or supports the conclusion
that the disorder began prior to your attainment of age 22.
20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, §12.05(B). Thus, to satisfy the requirements of § 12.05(B),
subsections (1), (2), and (3) must be met.
In determining whether Hamner’s impairments met or medically equaled Listing 12.05(B),
the ALJ recognized that Hamner obtained a full-scale IQ score of 67 on an intelligence test Dr.
John R. Goff performed in April 2014, satisfying prong (1). (Tr. 30, 600). Having reviewed
Hamner’s school records, the ALJ also found Hamner satisfied prong (3), stating Hamner “clearly
has intellectual deficits that began prior to age 22.” (Tr. 30). However, the ALJ found that Hamner
did not have significant deficits in adaptive functioning currently manifested by extreme
limitations of one, or marked limitations of two, of the four broad areas of mental functioning that
are required to satisfy prong (2). (Tr. 28, 30). Hamner challenges this conclusion. (Doc. 10 at 78).
Hamner points to Dr. Goff’s April 16, 2014 Medical Source Statement (“MSS”), which
stated Hamner had “marked” impairments in his ability to interact appropriately with the general
public; to interact appropriately with co-workers or peers; constriction of interests; the ability to
understand, remember and carry out repetitive tasks; the ability to sustain a routine without special
supervision; the ability to complete a normal workday and work week without interruptions from
psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable
number and length of rest periods; ability to respond appropriately to supervision; ability to
respond appropriately to changes in the work setting; and in the ability to respond to customary
work pressures. (Doc. 10 at 7) (citing tr. 602-04). Dr. Goff also found “extreme” limitations in
Hamner’s ability to understand, remember, and carry out complex instructions; his ability to
maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; and in his ability to perform activities
within a schedule, maintain regular attendance and be punctual within customary tolerances. (Tr.
Hamner recognizes that, to refute Dr. Goff’s findings, the ALJ accorded only partial weight
to Dr. Goff’s opinions and, instead, relies on findings set forth in consultative examiner Dr. Silvia
Colon-Lindsey’s report. (Doc. 10 at 8). Hamner contends this was an error because Dr. ColonLindsey examined Hamner only once and as a psychiatrist. (Id.). Therefore, Hamner contends,
Dr. Colon-Lindsey’s views are limited to the mental impairment of depression and do not have
anything to do with Hamner’s alleged intellectual disability. (Id.). Specifically, Hamner asserts
Dr. Colon-Lindsey did not conduct any intelligence testing and did not review any of Dr. Goff’s
testing. (Id.). Instead, Dr. Colon-Lindsey indicated she only reviewed primary care clinical notes
from July 2013, Indian Rivers Mental Health Center clinic summary from September 2013, and
an Adult Function Report in making her findings. (Id.) (citing tr. 562-67).
Having reviewed the ALJ’s decision and the record evidence, the ALJ properly determined
that Hamner did not satisfy the requirements of Listing 12.05(B), specifically prong (2). The ALJ
properly discounted Dr. Goff’s opinions, expressly according them only “partial weight.” (Tr. 30).
The opinions of consultative examiners, such as Dr. Goff, are not entitled to any special deference
or consideration, and the regulations do not impose the same articulation burden on ALJs in
evaluating the opinions of non-treating doctors. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1502, 404.1527(c)(2).
Notably, in discounting Dr. Goff’s opinions, the ALJ expressly found that they were based on
“faulty information. (Tr. 30). Contrary to Dr. Goff’s assertion that Hamner had a sparse or poor
work history (tr. 599, 648), the ALJ noted that Hamner had worked for four years as a vending
machine servicer and for six years in the maintenance department for the University of Alabama,
and owned and maintained rental property. (Tr. 30, 93-94, 334, 342-49). The ALJ found Hamner’s
work at a semi-skilled level was inconsistent with Dr. Goff’s opinion. (Tr. 31, 81). The ALJ also
pointed out that Hamner had worked without accommodations, lived alone, and was responsible
for managing his household and finances. (Tr. 30, 351-54). Hamner reported he left his job
because of physical problems, not an inability to work from a mental perspective. (Tr. 30). The
ALJ also noted that Dr. Goff was unaware of Hamner’s rental enterprise, which he uses to support
The ALJ accorded “great weight” to the Dr. Colon-Lindsey’s opinions, finding her
November 2013 consultative evaluation “consistent with and supported by the weight of the
evidence.” (Tr. 35, 562-65). Dr. Colon-Lindsey noted that Hamner engaged in a wide array of
activities of daily living, including performing household chores, doing his own laundry, helping
his father clean up rental properties, going to the grocery store, and visiting with family. (Tr. 563).
Although Hamner appeared immature, Dr. Colon-Lindsey observed he was alert and oriented; his
immediate, recent, and past memory were good; and his fund of knowledge and information was
good for current events. (Tr. 564). Dr. Colon-Lindsey further opined that Hamner was able to
manage his own funds. (Tr. 565).
For these reasons, the ALJ properly determined that Hamner failed to satisfy the
requirements of Listing 12.05(B), specifically prong (2). The ALJ did not improperly substitute
her judgment for that of Dr. Goff, and the ALJ’s reliance on Dr. Colon-Lindsey’s report was based
on the proper legal standards and is supported by substantial evidence.
Based on the foregoing, and upon careful consideration of the administrative record and
memoranda of the parties, decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Hamner’s
claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits is AFFIRMED and this action
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. A separate order will be entered.
DONE this 16th day of October, 2020.
JOHN H. ENGLAND, III
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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