United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
KIMBERLY A. JENKINS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
Baker United States Magistrate Judge.
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.
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.
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
[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.
Standard of Review
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).
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.
Weighing Dr. Neucks' opinion
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.
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 ...