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Tyson v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

September 7, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          For the Plaintiff: Kenneth R. Hiller, Esq. Timothy Hiller, Esq.

          For the Defendant: David L. Brown, Esq. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, Kathryn L. Smith, A.U.S.A. (oral argument)




         This is an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”), which denied the application of Phyllis Renee Tyson (“Plaintiff”) for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Supplemental Security Income benefits (“SSI”). Now before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings, Mar. 29, 2016, ECF No. 10, and Defendant's cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings, May 19, 2016, ECF No. 13.

         Following oral argument, the Court invited the parties to address the question of whether the treating source opinion by Ms. Gerig and Dr. Giovanni, R. 469-72, was supported by the record and entitled to deference under the treating physician rule. In particular, the Commissioner expressed concern that the some of the opinions reported on page 471 are not supported in the therapist's treatment notes. The Court's opinion is that if you accept the medical source statement as accurate, then the hypothetical question asked of the VE is not valid. The question then to be answered is as follows: Did the ALJ properly reject the medical source statement at page 470-71. In other words, if the ALJ finds that the “signs and symptoms” on the first page, R. 470, are not supported in the record, then could he reject the conclusions on the second page of the statement, R. 471?

         Having considered the issues raised in the papers, and at oral argument, Defendant's cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied and Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted. The Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for a new hearing.


         Plaintiff filed a claim on September 8, 2011, for disability benefits and an application for SSI. In both applications, she alleged disability beginning on January 6, 2010. Her claims were initially denied on January 25, 2012, and she requested a hearing. The hearing took place before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on October 2, 2013, via video conference (Plaintiff appeared in Rochester, New York with Howard Olinsky, Esq., and the ALJ presided from Falls Church, Virginia). R. 19.

         On June 6, 2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff met the insured status of the Act through December 31, 2015, had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 6, 2010, and had the following severe impairments: (1) mental impairments described as bipolar versus borderline personality disorder, bipolar, anxiety, situational depression and depression; (2) breathing dysfunction described as asthma, bronchitis, and reactive airway disease with episodes of upper respiratory infections; and (3) obesity. R. 21-22. The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet the listings in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and that she retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work with postural, environmental, and mental limitations. R. 23- 25. Based on his assessment, along with testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that significant jobs existed in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, such as hotel housekeeper, office mail clerk, or office helper. On July 22, 2015 the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff filed her complaint in this Court on September 14, 2015, ECF No. 1.


         I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

         Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits, and this section has been made applicable to SSI cases by 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). Additionally, the section directs that when considering such a claim, the Court must accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Substantial evidence is defined as, “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 217, 59 S.Ct. 206, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938). Section 405(g) thus limits the Court's scope of review to determining whether the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence. See, Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding that a reviewing Court does not try a benefits case de novo). The Court is also authorized to review the legal standards employed by the Commissioner in evaluating Plaintiff's claim.

         The Court must “scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached.” Lynn v. Schweiker, 565 F.Supp. 265, 267 (S.D.Tex. 1983) (citation omitted). The Plaintiff and the Commissioner each move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). Judgment on the pleadings may be granted under Rule 12(c) where the material facts are undisputed and where judgment on the merits is possible merely by considering the contents of the pleadings. Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639 (2d Cir. 1988).

         A district court should order payment of SSI benefits in cases where the record contains persuasive proof of disability and remand for further evidence would serve no purpose. See Carroll v. Secretary of Health and Human Serv., 705 F.2d 638, 644 (2d Cir.1981). The goal of this policy is “to shorten the often painfully slow process by which disability determinations are made.” Id.

         The Treating Physician[1] Rule

         The Commissioner's regulation states in pertinent part as follows:

(c) How we weigh medical opinions. Regardless of its source, we will evaluate every medical opinion we receive. Unless we give a treating source's opinion controlling weight under paragraph (c)(2) of this section, we consider all of the following factors in deciding the weight we give to any medical opinion.
(1) Examining relationship. Generally, we give more weight to the opinion of a source who has examined you than to the opinion of a source who has not examined you.
(2) Treatment relationship. Generally, we give more weight to opinions from your treating sources, since these sources are likely to be the medical professionals most able to provide a detailed, longitudinal picture of your medical impairment(s) and may bring a unique perspective to the medical evidence that cannot be obtained from the objective medical findings alone or from reports of individual examinations, such as consultative examinations or brief hospitalizations. If we find that a treating source's opinion on the is-sue(s) of the nature and severity of your impairment(s) is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in your case record, we will give it controlling weight. When we do not give the treating source's opinion controlling weight, we apply the factors listed in paragraphs (c)(2)(i) and (c)(2)(ii) of this section, as well as the factors in paragraphs (c)(3) through (c)(6) of this section in determining the weight to give the opinion. We will always give good reasons in our notice of determination or decision for the weight we give your treating source's opinion.
(i) Length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination. Generally, the longer a treating source has treated you and the more times you have been seen by a treating source, the more weight we will give to the source's medical opinion. When the treating source has seen you a number of times and long enough to have obtained a longitudinal picture of your impairment, we will give ...

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