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Jenkins v. Colvin

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

November 23, 2016

KIMBERLY A. JENKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Tim A. Baker United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Kimberly A. Jenkins appeals the Administrative Law Judge's denial of her application for Social Security benefits. Jenkins argues that the ALJ failed to give adequate weight to the treating physician, erred at step three, and cherry-picked the facts that support a finding of disability. For the reasons set forth below, Jenkins' brief in support of appeal [Filing No. 23] is granted and the Commissioner's decision is remanded.

         I. Background

         Jenkins applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning June 30, 2012. Her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. On September 25, 2014, Jenkins testified at a hearing before an ALJ. However, the ALJ found Jenkins is not disabled and denied the application.

         At step one, the ALJ found that Jenkins had no substantial gainful activity during the relevant time period. At step two, the ALJ found that Jenkins' severe impairments include rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, lupus, obesity, and migraine headaches. At step three, the ALJ found that Jenkins does not meet or equal a listing. At step four, the ALJ found Jenkins has the RFC to:

lift up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk for about 2 hours of an 8-hour workday, sit for about 6 hours of an 8-hour workday, occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ladders and stairs, and must avoid concentrated exposure to wetness and workspace hazards.

[Filing No. 14-2, at ECF p. 25.] The ALJ found Jenkins is able to perform her past relevant work as a dispatcher and administrative assistant. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Jenkins is not disabled without proceeding to step five. The ALJ's decision became final when the Appeals Council denied Jenkins' request for review. This appeal followed.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Court must uphold the ALJ's decision if substantial evidence supports his findings. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009). “The substantial evidence standard requires no more than such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1120 (7th Cir. 2014). The ALJ is obliged to consider all relevant medical evidence and cannot simply cherry-pick facts that support a finding of nondisability while ignoring evidence that points to a disability finding. Denton v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 419, 425 (7th Cir. 2010). If evidence contradicts the ALJ's conclusions, the ALJ must confront that evidence and explain why it was rejected. Moore, 743 F.3d at 1123. The ALJ, however, need not mention every piece of evidence, so long as he builds a logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion. Pepper v. Colvin, 712 F.3d 351, 362 (7th Cir. 2013).

         III. Discussion

         All roads lead to Dr. Neucks, Jenkins' treating rheumatologist at the center of all three issues on appeal. Rather than confront Dr. Neucks' opinion, the ALJ took a shortcut by simply rejecting it and affording it no weight. Cutting Dr. Neucks' opinion out of the analysis was error. If Dr. Neucks' opinion were given some weight, the record would favor a finding that Jenkins meets the listing criteria for lupus or requires a more restrictive RFC. For the reasons explained below, the ALJ's failure to consider and confront Dr. Neucks' opinion was an error that affected at least two aspects of his opinion.

         A. Weighing Dr. Neucks' opinion

         The ALJ began his analysis by pointing out that Dr. Neucks cannot make the ultimate conclusion on Jenkins' disability. Then, the ALJ summarily gave three reasons for rejecting Dr. Neucks' opinion and gave it no weight. The ALJ explained Dr. Neucks provided “only a ‘check the box' opinion without any supporting clinical examination findings or other objective evidence in support his [sic] opinion.” [Filing No. 14-2, at ECF p. 28.] The ALJ found Dr. Neucks' “own treatment records also document entirely normal physical examinations, with only abnormalities of limited tenderness noted on occasion.” Id. Finally, the ALJ found Dr. Neucks' “opinion is inconsistent with the opinions of the reviewing State agency medical consultants and the consultative examiner.” Id. Jenkins persuades the Court that these are not good reasons.

         A treating physician's opinion is entitled to controlling weight as long as it is well supported by objective medical evidence and is consistent with other substantial evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2); Roddy v. Astrue,705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2013). If an ALJ does not give controlling weight to a treating physician's opinion, he must offer “good reasons” for declining to do so. Larson v. Astrue,615 F.3d 744, 749 (7th Cir. 2010). The ALJ must then evaluate the treating physician's opinion and determine what weight to give it according to the factors set forth in § 404.1527(d). These factors are “the length, nature, and extent of the ...


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