(Transcript pg. 294). Dr. Brelje ultimately concluded that
Plaintiff had "an ongoing problem with alcohol abuse."
(Transcript pg. 295). Similarly, Dr. Obul Reddy, a psychiatrist,
after administering a "mental status examination," concluded that
Plaintiff had a "significant history of alcohol and drug abuse
dependence and addiction" but did not otherwise have "any other
identifiable psychiatric problem." (Transcript pg. 291).
Plaintiff was also examined by Gorden H. Ford, a licensed
clinical psychologist. Following Plaintiff's evaluation, Ford
opined that his results were "consistent with the previous
psychiatric and psychological evaluations" finding "a long-term
abuse of both alcohol and drugs, borderline cognitive
intellectual ability with little evidence of significant
short-term or long-term memory difficulties, and an absence of
significant personality or emotional disturbance." (Transcript
pg. 298). Finally, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff's long-term
treating physician, Lowell Brown, never referred him to a mental
health professional to treat any mental problem (other than
alcohol and drug abuse) and also never diagnosed Plaintiff with a
mental disorder. In fact, Dr. Brown marked Plaintiff's "capacity
for sustained mental activities" as a "mild limitation."
(Transcript pg. 321).
Based on the opinions of the various medical examiners
discussed in the preceding paragraph (which of course conflict
with Imhoff's opinion), it appears that there is substantial
evidence supporting the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff is not
disabled. See Walker v. Bowen, 834 F.2d 635, 640 (7th Cir.
1987) ("Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to
differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility
for that decision falls on the Secretary (or the Secretary's
designate, the ALJ)."). Plaintiff, however, essentially argues
that Imhoff's opinion should be accorded greater consideration
because he was the only examiner to conduct a "battery of
psychological tests." In fact, Plaintiff claims that the ALJ's
opinion is not supported by substantial evidence since the other
medical examiners never specifically tested for the impairments
at issue. Finally, Plaintiff claims that since no other medical
examiners conducted a "battery of psychological tests," Imhoff's
conclusions were uncontradicted, thus, the ALJ, in concluding
that Plaintiff did not suffer from a listed impairment,
substituted her own judgment for that of a relevant professional.
See Scivally v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1070, 1076 (7th Cir. 1992)
("The Secretary's decision must be based on testimony and medical
evidence in the record, and the Secretary cannot make his own
independent medical determination about the claimant.").
Essentially, Plaintiff asks the Court to hold that when a
medical examiner performs a "battery of psychological tests" that
medical examiner's conclusion is, as a matter of law, superior to
the conclusions of other examiners who failed to administer such
tests. Or, in other words, a medical examiner's failure to
administer a "battery of psychological tests" indicates (as a
matter of law) that the medical examiner's conclusion regarding
the patient's mental or psychological well-being is
unsubstantiated, or at the very least, inferior to an examiner
who administered such tests.
In response to Plaintiff's argument, we first note that Dr.
Brelje did in fact perform a standardized test (the WAIS-R).
Furthermore, every examiner, with the exception of Plaintiff's
treating physician, administered some form of oral examination
whereby they asked Plaintiff questions and based their individual
diagnosis on Plaintiff's responses (Dr. Reddy referred to the
test as a "mental status examination"). In response, Plaintiff
would most likely argue that the tests performed by Imhoff are
more thorough and complete, thus, they are more accurate
indicators of psychological impairments than the "simple" tests
performed by the other examiners.
Perhaps Plaintiff is correct. However, the problem with
Plaintiff's contention is that the Court is not qualified or
competent to support that conclusion. That is, the Court is
obviously not educated or trained in the medical field, thus, we
certainly cannot conclude that Imhoff's opinion is superior to
the other examiner's opinions merely because he performed
additional tests. As far as we know, an examiner's opinion
regarding one's psychological well-being based on that examiner's
observation of the patient and his analysis of responses to
certain questions is just as accurate as an examiner who performs
a "battery of psychological tests."*fn8 Plaintiff fails to cite
any medical or legal authority in support of his contention, nor
could the Court locate any such authority.*fn9 And, as noted
above, Plaintiff has the burden of proving that he suffers from
one of the listed impairments. Thus, we conclude that the ALJ's
conclusion is supported by substantial evidence, namely the
opinions of the other examiners who unanimously concluded that
Plaintiff did not suffer from any psychological impairments.
Furthermore, the ALJ discredited Imhoff's report for numerous
reasons, according it low probative value. Plaintiff objects to
many of the reasons articulated by the ALJ in discrediting the
report. Based on our analysis, we cannot conclude that the ALJ
improperly rejected Imhoff's report.
First, the ALJ noted that Imhoff, aware of the opinions of
other examining psychiatrists and psychologists finding no
evidence of mental impairments, diagnosed an organic mental
disorder, yet he failed to perform additional tests which would
apparently confirm the presence of such a disorder.*fn10 If
Imhoff diagnosed Plaintiff with an organic mental disorder, why
did he neglect to perform additional tests which would confirm
such a conclusion (especially considering no other examiners
could find evidence of a mental impairment)?
Second, Imhoff concluded that Plaintiff was functioning at a
rate of 44 to 49 on the Global Assessment of Functioning Scale.
Such a functioning rate is associated with "serious symptoms of a
mental impairment, such as suicide ideation, severe obsessional
rituals, frequent shop-lifting, and a serious impairment in
social, occupational or school functioning, such as the total
lack of friends, or the inability to keep a job." (Transcript pg.
27). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's testimony at the hearing
directly contradicted Imhoff's findings. We agree.
No other medical examiner concluded that Plaintiff suffered
from anything other than alcohol and drug abuse/dependence. There
is no evidence in the record indicative or analogous to suicide
ideation, severe obsessional rituals, or frequent shop-lifting.
Regarding Imhoff's report finding a serious impairment in social
functioning, Plaintiff testified that he visits friends once or
twice a week (friends who do not use drugs or alcohol)
(Transcript pg. 61 and 71), that he attends Alcoholics Anonymous
meetings twice a week (Transcript pg. 61), that he has been
recently attending church every Sunday (Transcript pg. 71), and
that he performs some housework and prepares simple meals
(Transcript pg. 61). True, Plaintiff has difficulty in
maintaining employment, but by his
own admission this is apparently due to his alcohol problem
(Transcript pg. 54 and 65).
Third, Imhoff diagnosed Plaintiff with a personality disorder.
However, as discussed below, Imhoff's mental capacity evaluation
is inconsistent with such a diagnosis. Thus, we conclude that
there is substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's decision
discrediting Imhoff's report.
B. Personality Disorders (Listing 12.08)
Plaintiff also apparently argues that he suffers from a
personality disorder. In support of his argument, he relies
entirely upon Imhoff's report. However, as noted above, Imhoff's
report fails to satisfy the Listing 12.08 criteria necessary for
finding a presumptively disabling personality disorder. That is,
according to Listing 12.08B, the required level of severity for a
personality disorder is met when, among other things, three of
the following result:
1. Marked restriction of activities of daily living;
2. Marked difficulties in maintaining social
3. Deficiencies of concentration, persistent or pace
resulting in frequent failure to complete tasks in a
timely manner (in work settings or elsewhere); or
4. Repeated episodes of deterioration or
decompensation in work or work-like settings which
cause the individual to withdraw from that situation
or to experience exacerbation of signs and symptoms
(which may include deterioration of adaptive
20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, Listing 12.08B.*fn11 Yet,
interestingly, Imhoff's report analyzing Plaintiff's degree of
functional restriction concludes that Plaintiff does not have a
"marked restriction" or "marked difficulty" regarding criterion 1
and 2, respectively. Instead, Imhoff characterizes Plaintiff's
functional restrictions under both criterion as "slight to
moderate." (Transcript pg. 345). Thus, according to Imhoff's
report, Plaintiff's condition does not result in a finding of
three of the four criteria listed in 12.08B. Consequently, for
the purposes of receiving supplemental security income, Plaintiff
does not presumptively suffer from a personality disorder based
on Imhoff's report.
Thus, since Imhoff's report concedes that Plaintiff is not
presumptively disabled under Listing 12.08 and no other medical
examiner found evidence of a personality disorder, Plaintiff has
failed to meet his burden establishing a listed medical
impairment. Moreover, since no other examiner concluded that
Plaintiff suffered from a mental or personality disorder, the
ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence.
Next, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by relying on the
vocational expert's testimony because such testimony failed to
consider all of Plaintiff's functional limitations. This argument
involves step 5 of the five-part test. Since Plaintiff has no
past relevant work experience, the Secretary has the burden at
step 5 to establish that he can engage in some type of
substantial gainful employment.
In determining whether Plaintiff could perform a significant
number of jobs in the national economy, the ALJ employed the
services of a vocational expert. The ALJ asked the vocational
expert a hypothetical question and directed the expert to
determine, after considering the limitations posed by the
question, what types of jobs such an individual could perform.
(Transcript pg. 73-74). Plaintiff argues that the hypothetical
question failed to accurately reflect his limitations and
capabilities, thus, the ALJ's determination that he could perform
a significant number of jobs in the national economy was not
supported by substantial evidence.
First, Plaintiff argues that the hypothetical question did not
reflect the limitations as stated by Imhoff. However, as
discussed throughout this order, Imhoff's report was validly
discredited by the ALJ for numerous reasons.
Next, Plaintiff argues that, regardless of Imhoff's report, the
hypothetical question assumed
that Plaintiff was functioning at an educational level equivalent
to a high school graduate, yet the record supports the conclusion
that his educational level is much lower. Thus, argues Plaintiff,
the jobs identified by the vocational expert are not appropriate
for an individual with Plaintiff's developmental limitations.
Specifically, Plaintiff, citing the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (DOT), argues that the jobs identified by the vocational
expert are inappropriate for an individual with his level of
reasoning, mathematical, and language development. We disagree.
Plaintiff's argument is initially premised on the conclusion
that the vocational expert was unaware of his borderline
intellectual functioning level. That is, because the ALJ's
hypothetical question referred to an individual with a high
school education, Plaintiff assumes the vocational expert's
response was also based on an individual with that level of
education. However, the vocational expert was well aware of the
fact that, although Plaintiff obtained a high school diploma, he
was not functioning at a level generally associated with a high
school education. Indeed, the vocational expert was aware of
Plaintiff's intelligence quotient (IQ) scores (evidencing
borderline intelligence functioning, but not quite in the
mentally retarded range) and he even adopted Imhoff's report
finding that Plaintiff read and performed arithmetic at a fourth
grade level. (Transcript pg. 77). With this information in mind,
the vocational expert identified several jobs in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform. Thus, although the
hypothetical question referred to an individual with a high
school education, the vocational expert was well aware of
Plaintiff's intellectual limitations.
Next, Plaintiff argues that the vocational expert's description
of the identified jobs was contrary to the DOT's
characterization. Related to that argument, Plaintiff further
contends that the DOT requires greater levels of reasoning,
mathematical, and language skills than Plaintiff possesses. The
above arguments are premised on the conclusion that the DOT's
general educational development requirements (i.e., reasoning,
mathematical, and language skills) are binding on the ALJ.
However, the DOT's requirements are not controlling and they are
to be applied in light of the vocational expert's professional
knowledge regarding one's ability to perform an identified job.
See Conn v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 51 F.3d 607
(6th Cir. 1995) ("[T]he ALJ may rely on the testimony of the
vocational expert even if it is inconsistent with the job
descriptions set forth in the Dictionary."); Basinger v.
Secretary of Health and Human Services, No. 94-3004, 1994 WL
421726, U.S.App. LEXIS 21795 (6th Cir. Aug. 11, 1994) ("The
social security regulations do not require the Secretary or the
vocational expert to rely on DOT classifications."); Barker v.
Shalala, 40 F.3d 789, 795 (6th Cir. 1994) ("It would be
manifestly inappropriate to make the [DOT] the sole source of
evidence concerning gainful employment."); Jackson v. Sullivan,
No. 92-C-4089, U.S.Dist. LEXIS 10903 (N.D.Ill. Aug. 3, 1993) ("We
do not read [the regulations] as requiring an ALJ to follow DOT
classifications in spite of contrary testimony from a vocational
Here, as noted above, the vocational expert was well aware of
Plaintiff's intellectual deficiencies. (Transcript pg. 77).
Although he was unaware of the general educational development
requirements pertaining to each individual identified job, the
vocational expert stated that such jobs could be performed by an
individual operating at a fourth grade level. (Transcript pg.
77). In fact, the vocational expert further stated that the
identified jobs could even be performed satisfactorily by
individuals "who are classified as mentally retarded."*fn12
(Transcript pg. 77). Thus, regardless of the DOT requirements,
the vocational expert's professional knowledge supported his
conclusion that Plaintiff could perform the identified jobs.
Consequently, since the ALJ relied on the vocational expert's
testimony, her conclusion that Plaintiff could perform
significant jobs in the
national economy was supported by substantial evidence.*fn13
Ergo, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (d/e 8) is
DENIED. The Secretary's motion for summary affirmance (d/e 10) is