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Shattuck v. Berryhill

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

June 8, 2018

KIMBERLY K SHATTUCK, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.

          ORDER ON SHATTUCK'S BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF APPEAL

          Tim A. Baker United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Kimberly K. Shattuck appeals the Administrative Law Judge's denial of her application for disability benefits. Her claim stems from a heart attack she suffered on December 8, 2013. The issue on appeal is whether the ALJ erred by rejecting the opinions of Dr. Marco Caccamo, Shattuck's treating cardiologist, and Dr. Jason King, Shattuck's family physician. Both doctors testified that Shattuck must frequently elevate her legs throughout the work day, but the ALJ did not include this restriction when calculating Shattuck's residual functional capacity. In her decision, the ALJ erred by failing to properly consider Dr. Caccamo's status as a treating cardiologist, by failing to properly weigh medical opinions, by playing doctor, and by failing to build a logical bridge between the evidence and her rejection of Shattuck's claimed need to frequently elevate her legs. Therefore, the Court grants Shattuck's request for remand. [Filing No. 19.]

         II. Background

         In evaluating Shattuck's claim, the ALJ used the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential evaluation process. See20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) (explaining the five-step process). At step one, the ALJ determined that Shattuck had not engaged in substantially gainful activity since her heart attack. At step two, the ALJ determined that Shattuck is severely impaired with ischemic heart disease, cardiomyopathy, obesity, and thyroid disorder. However, at step three, the ALJ determined that Shattuck's combination of medical issues does not meet the severity requirements of the listed impairments, so Shattuck is not presumptively disabled. 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. Instead, the ALJ proceeded with the analysis by evaluating Shattuck's RFC, meaning her ability to perform physical and mental work activities despite her impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The ALJ determined that Shattuck is restricted by various physical limitations but has the RFC to perform sedentary work. The ALJ did not follow the findings of Dr. Caccamo, Shattuck's treating cardiologist, and Dr. King, Shattuck's treating family physician, that she must frequently elevate her legs during the work day.

         At step four, the ALJ determined, based on testimony from a vocational expert, that Shattuck does not have the RFC to perform the work activities her prior employment required. Finally, at step five, the ALJ determined that Shattuck is capable of making a “successful adjustment” to other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. [Filing No. 17-2, at ECF p. 26-27, R. at 25-26.] This determination was made based on Shattuck's age, education, work experience, her RFC, and testimony from the VE. In questioning the VE, the ALJ specifically asked whether these jobs would be available to someone that must elevate their legs frequently throughout the day. The VE stated there “would be no work” available for anyone in Shattuck's position that had to frequently elevate their legs more than six to twelve inches during the work day. [Filing No. 17-2, at ECF p. 59-60, R. at 58-59.]

         Therefore, the issue in this case is whether the ALJ properly evaluated Shattuck's claimed need to frequently elevate her legs.

         III. Discussion

         Shattuck argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's rejection of the limitation endorsed by Shattuck's treating cardiologist and treating family physician that she must frequently elevate her legs throughout the day. In support of this argument, Shattuck contends that the ALJ failed to consider Dr. Caccamo's status as a treating cardiologist, failed to properly weigh relevant medical opinions, played doctor, and failed to build a logical bridge from the evidence to her rejection of the treating physicians' restriction. Shattuck's arguments are persuasive.

         On review, the Court exercises deference and evaluates whether the ALJ's decision is supported by “substantial evidence.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1979)). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. This means that substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla but may be less than a preponderance” of the evidence. Id. However, the Court will not “reweigh the evidence or substitute [the Court's] judgment for that of the ALJ.” Murphy v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 811, 815 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Pepper v. Colvin, 712 F.3d 351, 362 (7th Cir. 2013)). Instead, the Court will analyze whether the ALJ performed her duty to “build a logical bridge from the evidence to [her] conclusion.” Id. (quoting Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005)).

         A. The ALJ failed to give Dr. Caccamo his due consideration

         Shattuck argues that the ALJ failed to afford Dr. Caccamo due consideration as a treating physician or as a cardiology specialist. The Deputy Commissioner counters by pointing out that the ALJ cited to Dr. Caccamo's opinion. The Deputy Commissioner claims that this fact demonstrates the ALJ's knowledge of Dr. Caccamo's status as a treating physician, his long treatment history with Shattuck, and his specialty as a cardiologist. The Deputy Commissioner further argues that the ALJ is not required to explicitly weigh every factor listed in the regulation when assessing the medical opinion of a treating physician.

         A physician is considered a “treating” physician if they are the plaintiff's “own acceptable medical source” and the physician has provided medical treatment sufficient to form an “ongoing treatment relationship” with the plaintiff. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(a)(2).[1] Generally, treating physician opinions are given greater weight because they “may bring a unique perspective to the medical evidence that cannot be obtained from the objective medical findings alone or from individual examinations” by non-treating physicians. § 404.1527(c)(2). Additionally, the ALJ “generally gives more weight to the medical opinion of a specialist about medical issues related to his or her area of specialty.” § 404.1527(c)(5). The “opinions of non-treating generalists may not generally overcome those of the treating specialist unless the specialist's opinions are inconsistent with the substantial record.” Israel v. Colvin, 840 F.3d 432, 441 (7th Cir. 2016).

         When determining a plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ must review “all the relevant medical and other evidence in [the] case record.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). In other words, the ALJ must consider all regulatory factors to the extent applicable to the present case. Gerstner v. Berryhill, 879 F.3d 257, 263 (7th Cir. 2018). Although this Court's review is deferential, it “cannot uphold an administrative decision that fails to mention highly pertinent evidence.” Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010) ...


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