United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SIMON, JUDGE
Rabey appeals the Social Security Administration's
decision to deny him Social Security disability insurance
benefits. An administrative law judge issued a partially
favorable decision, finding that Rabey was disabled from
January 16, 2014 to February 18, 2015, but that he was not
disabled for the period from September 19, 2011 to January
15, 2014. As explained below, I find the ALJ erred by failing
to consider the required checklist of factors when he
afforded little weight to Rabey's treating physician.
Remand is required so that the ALJ may properly consider all
of the factors.
is not to determine from scratch whether or not Rabey is
disabled and entitled to benefits. Instead, my review of the
ALJ's findings is deferential, to determine whether the
ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the
decision is supported by substantial evidence. Castile v.
Astrue, 617 F.3d 923, 926 (7th Cir. 2010). If
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's factual
findings, they are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
“Evidence is substantial if a reasonable person would
accept it as adequate to support the conclusion.”
Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir.
2004). “Substantial evidence” is more than a
“scintilla” of evidence, but it's less than a
preponderance of the evidence. Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). As such, the review
is a light one. But of course, I cannot “simply
rubber-stamp the Commissioner's decision without a
critical review of the evidence.” Clifford v.
Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000).
addition, the ALJ does not have to review every piece of
evidence, but must provide a “logical bridge”
between the evidence and conclusions. Terry v.
Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009). When an ALJ
denies disability benefits but fails to adequately support
his conclusions, the decision must be remanded. Jelinek
v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 811 (7th Cir. 2011).
Specifically, the ALJ's reasoning must be sufficiently
articulated to permit meaningful review. See Steele v.
Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002). I must
consider only the evidence pointed out by the ALJ in his
written decision. See Jelinek, 662 F.3d at 811
(“[W]hat matters are the reasons articulated by the
Rabey's treating physicians was Dr. Debra Sanders. Rabey
and Dr. Sanders had a long-term treating relationship
beginning in 2008. She treated him on at least 13 different
occasions in the three years preceding the ALJ's
decision. Unquestionably, Dr. Sanders was a treating
treating physician's opinion is entitled to controlling
weight if it is “well supported by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not
inconsistent with other substantial evidence” in the
record. 20 C.F.R.§ 404.1527(d)(2); see White v.
Barnhart, 415 F.3d 654, 658 (7th Cir. 2005). This rule
takes into account the treating physician's advantage in
having personally examined the claimant and developed a
rapport, while controlling for the bias that a treating
physician may develop with the patient. Dixon v.
Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1177 (7th Cir. 2001).
treating physician's opinion regarding the nature and
severity of a medical condition is entitled to controlling
weight if it is well supported by medical findings and not
inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record,
it is in the ALJ's purview to discount the treating
physician's opinion. If an ALJ decides not to give
controlling weight to a treating physician's opinion,
however, he must give “good reasons” for doing
so. Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734, 740 (7th Cir.
2011). Failure to do so is cause for remand.
when “an ALJ does not give a treating physician's
opinion controlling weight, the regulations require the ALJ
to consider the length, nature, and extent of the treatment
relationship, frequency of examination, the physician's
specialty, the types of tests performed, and the consistency
and supportability of the physician's opinion.”
Moss v. Astrue, 555 F.3d 556, 561 (7th Cir. 2009).
The Seventh Circuit has reversed an ALJ's decision to
discount a treating physician's opinion without examining
the required factors. E.g., Larson v.
Astrue, 615 F.3d 744, 751 (7th Cir. 2010).
Sanders opined that Rabey's pain and other symptoms would
interfere with his attention and concentration to perform
tasks frequently. She also opined that he could not walk a
city block without pain, and that he would have to get up and
move around every 15 minutes. Rabey would be able to sit and
stand/walk for only about two hours in an eight-hour work
day. She also noted he would require a job that allowed him
to walk for five minutes every half hour and that allowed him
to take a break every hour or two. She opined that Rabey
would rarely be able to lift 10 pounds, twist, crouch or
squat, and look up or down or turn his head left or right.
Dr. Sanders further indicated that Rabey would “have
good days and bad days due to his impairments.” [A.R.
gave little weight to Dr. Sanders' opinion. In an
otherwise thorough opinion, the ALJ did not articulate any of
the required factors in discounting the treating
physician's opinion. The entirety of the ALJ's
analysis recounts portions of the medical evidence in the
record and concludes that “[t]aking into account the
overall medical evidence as well as the State agency opinion,
the undersigned finds Dr. Sanders' opinion unreasonably
restrictive during the relevant period.” [A.R. at
883-84.] I can reasonably view this explanation of the
medical evidence to suggest that the ALJ viewed Dr.
Sanders' opinion as inconsistent with the other medical
evidence in the record.
even then, the ALJ failed to acknowledge that Dr.
Sanders' opinion that Rabey could not stand or walk for
more than two hours in an eight-hour day was actually
consistent with the opinion of the consultative examiner Dr.
Vemulapalli. Indeed, many of Dr. Vemulapalli's
conclusions were similar to those of Dr. Sanders. Like Dr.
Sanders, Dr. Vemulapalli also found that Rabey was quite
limited in his ability to perform non-sedentary work - for
example, he was unable to maintain balance during ambulation
while carrying objects less than ten pounds, that his gait
was unsteady, his range of motion was “very much
limited” in his left hip, and his standing static
balance was poor. [A.R. at 766.] These findings are
remarkably similar to Dr. Sanders'.
ALJ, however, viewed them as inconsistent for two reasons:
first, Dr. Vemulapalli stated that Rabey walked with a cane,
while Dr. Sanders noted that he did not require the use of an
assistive device; and second, Dr. Vemulapalli stated that
Rabey could not maintain his balance while carrying objects,
while Dr. Sanders said that he could occasionally balance.
[A.R. at 884.] I fail to see how these opinions are at all
inconsistent. Keep in mind that Dr. Sanders opined that Rabey
had “good days and bad days.” It's entirely
possible that on some of his “bad days, ” Rabey
required the use of a cane but didn't need one on his
“good days.” And it's also consistent that
Rabey would be able to occasionally balance, but never
balance while carrying anything.
in discounting Dr. Sanders' opinion, the ALJ ignored some
parts of the other medical evidence that actually supported
her opinion and cherry picked the evidence that supposedly
showed inconsistency. For example, the ALJ cited Dr.
Williams' examination as support for a less restrictive
RFC, and presumably took this into account when discounting
Dr. Sanders' opinion (although again, there was no direct
mention of this evidence when the ALJ discounted Dr.
Sanders' opinion). Dr. Williams noted that Rabey had a
full range of motion in his hip with no motor deficits in his
lower extremities. But Dr. Williams also reported that Rabey
“limped in the office today hunched over, ” was
“globally tender about paravertebral muscles, ”
and “straight leg raise on the left is uncomfortable
and exacerbated with ankle dorsiflexion.” [A.R. at
772.] The ALJ did not address these parts of Dr.
respect to Rabey's hip pain, the ALJ noted that he had
received injections in his left hip, which, according to the
ALJ, Rabey acknowledged relieve his pain. [A.R. at 881.] But
at the hearing Rabey testified that the cortisone injections
helped relieve the pain for four to six weeks, but his hip