United States District Court, E.D. New York
RICHARD P. MORRIS, ESQ., Klein, Wagner, & Morris, LLP, New York, NY, CHRISTOPHER J. BOWES, ESQ., Shoreham, NY, for the Plaintiff.
RACHEL G. BALABAN, ESQ., Assistant United States Attorney, Brooklyn, NY, for the Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
FREDERIC BLOCK, Senior District Judge.
Sonia Martinez ("Martinez") seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Both parties move for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's motion is denied and the Court remands for further proceedings.
Martinez, who worked as a clerical associate at Kings County Hospital, fractured her right thumb in August 2008. Despite having surgery, she continued to experience severe pain. Martinez quit her job and on July 28, 2009, she filed her application for DIB, alleging an onset date of August 5, 2008. In addition to thumb pain, Martinez claimed that she also suffered from back pain, sleep apnea, numbness and stiffness, asthma, and hypertension. After her initial claim was denied, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing and also denied her claim. The Appeals Council denied her request for review, rendering final the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits.
Applying the five-step evaluation process,  the ALJ found that: (1) Martinez had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 5, 2008; (2) her asthma, lumbosacral disc disease, cervical disc disease, hypertension, obesity, moderate carpal tunnel syndrome, and left acoustic neuroma qualified as severe impairments; and (3) her impairments did not meet or medically equal the criteria for a listed impairment. The ALJ then determined that Martinez had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work. Applying that RFC to the remaining steps, the ALJ found that (4) Martinez was unable to perform her past relevant work, but (5) she could perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy.
Martinez contends that the ALJ erred in making her RFC determination because she gave some, "but not controlling weight, " to the opinions of two treating physicians-Dr. Kaplan and Dr. Folk-and instead accorded controlling weight to the opinion of Dr. Friedman, a consultative examiner. AR at 20. And because the RFC assessment was flawed, Martinez argues that testimony of a vocational expert was also flawed.
A treating physician's opinion is to be given "controlling weight" as to the nature and severity of the claimant's impairments, as long as it is "well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the] case record." Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 503 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)). If the opinion of a treating physician is not accorded controlling weight, it must be evaluated according to specific regulatory criteria. See id. § 404.1527(d)(2). "Failure to provide good reasons' for not crediting the opinion of a claimant's treating physician is a ground for remand." Snell v. Apfel, 177 F.3d 128, 133 (2d Cir. 1999).
1. Treating Physician Dr. Kaplan
Dr. Kaplan examined Martinez on multiple occasions, and completed a physical capacity evaluation in which he opined that she could carry two pounds frequently and five pounds occasionally; stand or walk for up to two hours per day; and sit for less than two hours per day. He made a hand notation that her limitations were due to her lower back pain. AR at 790.
The ALJ refused to give controlling weight to Dr. Kaplan's opinion because it was " not consistent with the overall evidence." AR at 20 (emphasis added). She stated that "other reports contained in the record reflect no motor or sensory deficits and no atrophy." Id. But Dr. Kaplan's reports repeatedly and consistently noted that Martinez had no focal motor deficits. See AR at 176, 617, 695 (reproducing reports from October 2009, January 2010, and February 2010). Morever, the ALJ is at odds with herself: in her summary of Dr. Kaplan's reports she wrote that "No focal ...