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Alford v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

February 6, 2017

ARTHUR ALFORD, JR., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Arthur Alford, Jr. appeals the Administrative Law Judge's denial of his application for Social Security benefits. Alford argues that the ALJ erred at step three by finding his I.Q. score is invalid, failing to send him for an additional examination, and failing to summon a medical expert. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds these were not errors. Alford's brief in support of appeal [Filing No. 17] is denied and the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         I. Background

         Alford was released from Pendleton Correctional Facility in early 2013 after at least six years of incarceration.[2] On May 28, 2013, Alford filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning May 23, 2013. Alford was referred to Dr. Schmutte for a consultative psychological exam, which occurred on June 28, 2013. This exam is the centerpiece of this appeal.

         Dr. Schmutte's report begins by identifying that “Alford acknowledged that he understood the purpose of the evaluation to be related to his recent claim for disability benefits.” [Filing No. 14-7, at ECF p. 146.] Alford described himself as angry, moody, and worried. Alford confided in Dr. Schmutte that he witnessed his mother's murder and that he believes he can see her occasionally. According to the report, Alford has never received professional mental health services, is not taking medication, has trouble sleeping, does not know his family health history, and does not use substances other than an occasional beer.

         Dr. Schmutte's report describes Alford's social history, that he lives with his sister, is single, and has at least four children. Alford completed ninth grade and never pursued a GED, last worked at Hardee's and K-Mart in the 1990s, and never served in the military. Alford reported that he independently completes activities of daily living. His sister typically cooks and cleans for him, although he sometimes assists with laundry and microwaving food. Alford also relies on his sister financially because he has no bank account, no health insurance, and his only income is food stamps. Alford sometimes goes to the park with his son, but does not have friends, and he is emotionally supported by his sister, an aunt, and some cousins.

         Dr. Schmutte noted that upon performing a mental examination, Alford's “responses were terse and reflected his level of annoyance that appear to be part of his everyday demeanor. At times he provided short snippy responses and then stared at the examiner as though the questions asked of him were absurd.” [Filing No. 14-7, at ECF p. 148.] For example:

For the season of the year, he curtly responded, ‘I don't know.' He refused to estimate the time of day without looking at the clock. . . . He identified his location as ‘in your office talking to you asking me questions.' . . . When asked to interpret the proverb ‘Don't cry over spilled milk, he shrugged and responded ‘If you spilled the milk I guess.' For the proverb ‘Don't judge a book by its cover, ' he responded with a shrug.
When asked to count forward from 1 by serial three's, he stated that he did not understand the task and, due to his level of frustration and lack of motivation, the examiner made the decision to move forward.

[Filing No. 14-7, at ECF p. 149-50.]

         Dr. Schmutte also attempted to administer an I.Q. test to Alford. However, Alford did not engage in the testing process. In particular, Dr. Schmutte noted:

Toward the end of the evaluation, while sitting straight up in a chair, he closed his eyes and his head fell toward his chest and he was asleep for a few moments. The examiner allowed him to sleep and when he looked up he appeared to be startled. While it is likely that his intellectual functioning is below average, these scores are at least partially the result of his poor level of motivation and irritability.

[Filing No. 14-7, at ECF p. 149-50.] Dr. Schmutte reported Alford's full scale I.Q. score as 58, but she did “not feel that [she] can provide an accurate diagnosis with regards to his intellectual functioning” because of his poor motivation during administration of the I.Q. test. [Filing No. 14-7, at ECF p. 153.] Ultimately, Dr. Schmutte offered her ...

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