United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SIMON, JUDGE
Anne Jackson seeks review of the Social Security
Administration's decision denying her application for
disability insurance benefits. Because the ALJ discounted the
opinion of Jackson's treating doctor without good reason,
the case will be remanded for further consideration.
filed for benefits on August 9, 2011, alleging that she
became disabled on August 20, 2010. Following a hearing, on
April 5, 2013, an administrative law judge held that she was
not disabled. Jackson appealed to this Court, and the case
was remanded by agreement of the parties in April 2015.
During the appeal, Jackson filed a second application and was
found disabled as of April 6, 2013. So the remand in this
case was limited to determining whether Jackson was disabled
from August 20, 2010 to April 5, 2013. The ALJ found that she
was not, and Jackson now appeals that determination.
ALJ's decision contains a thorough review of the facts
and medical evidence, and I will not repeat them here.
It's enough to say here that the ALJ found that Jackson
suffered from the following severe impairments: diabetes
mellitus, asthma, dyslipidemia, hypertension, morbid obesity,
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, right ankle
with degenerative changes, right knee with degenerative
changes, history of hernias with repair, and major depressive
and bipolar disorder. [A.R. at 734.] Because these severe
impairments did not meet or equal the Listings, the ALJ
evaluated Jackson's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), finding that Jackson could perform
sedentary work with a multitude of additional limitations.
[A.R. at 737.]
appeal, Jackson raises three arguments that she claims
warrant remand. For starters, I must be cognizant of my role
in this process. It is not to determine from scratch whether
or not Jackson is disabled. 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. Shideler
v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 306, 310 (7th Cir. 2012);
Castile v. Astrue, 617 F.3d 923, 926 (7th Cir.
2010); Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th
Cir. 2008). 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). So 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).
first argues that the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinion
evidence and creating an evidentiary gap between the opinion
evidence and the RFC. In particular, Jackson takes issue with
the little weight afforded by the ALJ to the opinions of
Jackson's treating physician and the consultative
examiner. Because I find that the ALJ erred in assigning
little weight to the treating physician's opinion, I will
address only that argument.
Miller is a pain management specialist and was unquestionably
Jackson's treating physician; he examined her on numerous
occasions during the relevant period. [See e.g. A.R.
665-66, 687, 1053, 1081, 1105, 1127, 1148, 1166, 1185, 1197,
1201, 1210.] A treating physician's opinion is entitled
to controlling weight when it is “well-supported by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial
evidence.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). This rule
is sensible. It 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.
ALJ determines that the opinion is unsupported or
inconsistent with the record, the ALJ may reject the opinion,
but he must give “good reasons” for doing so.
Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734, 740 (7th Cir. 2011).
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);
see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2).
Dr. Miller opined on December 26, 2016, that Jackson could
not sit or stand for six to eight hours due to knee pain and
that she had difficulty with ambulation and would have
limited manipulative abilities. [A.R. at 1239.] He also
opined that Jackson could not lift more than five pounds on a
regular basis and that she would have difficulty bending,
squatting, kneeling, and turning her body. [A.R. at 1239-40.]
offered two reasons for affording little weight to Dr.
Miller's opinion. First, according to the ALJ,
“while the doctor reported that it relates back to
2010, the evidence of record does not support it.”
[A.R. at 742.] Second, the ALJ pointed to two physical
examinations which the ALJ suggested were inconsistent with
Dr. Miller's opinions.
first examination was a consultative evaluation on November
1, 2011, in which the consultative examiner, Dr. Ralph
Inhabit, found that Jackson had full range of motion of the
knees, normal strength in the lower extremities and walked
with a normal gait. In addition, her range of motion,
strength, and grip strength in the upper extremities was
noted as normal. [Id.]
choosing to discount the treating physician's opinion,
the ALJ relied in part on this examination, which the ALJ
viewed as inconsistent with the treating physician's
conclusions. But the CE's conclusion, even based on the
normal findings described above, was very similar to Dr.
Miller's. The CE found that Jackson could not sit for
longer than 15-20 minutes, could walk only short distances
for up to one to two blocks, and could lift only 10 pounds
due to her muscle spasms and pain. [A.R. at 411.]. In other