United States District Court, E.D. New York
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
COGAN, DISTRICT JUDGE.
seeks review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security, following a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge, that she is not entitled to Social Security Disability
benefits under the Social Security Act.
raises two points of error. First, plaintiff contends that
the ALJ did not properly apply the treating physician
regulations. Second, plaintiff contends that the vocational
expert improperly determined that plaintiff retained the
ability to perform light work despite the ALJ's findings.
For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's motion for
judgment on the pleadings is denied and defendant's
motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted.
primary contention is that the ALJ unjustifiably disregarded
the limitations opinions of plaintiff's treating
physicians. “[T]he opinion of a claimant's treating
physician as to the nature and severity of the impairment is
given ‘controlling weight' so long as it ‘is
well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with
the other substantial evidence in [the] case
record.'” Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117,
128 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)).
If the ALJ does not afford a treating physician's opinion
controlling weight, he must still “comprehensively set
forth reasons for the weight assigned to a treating
physician's opinion.” Halloran v.
Barnhart, 362 F.3d 28 (2d Cir. 2004).
the factors that the ALJ must consider when deciding whether
to give a treating physician's opinion a certain weight
are “the length of the treatment relationship and the
frequency of examination; the nature and extent of the
treatment relationship; the relevant evidence, particularly
medical signs and laboratory findings, supporting the
opinion; the consistency of the opinion with the record as a
whole; and whether the physician is a specialist in the area
covering the particular medical issues.”
Burgess, 537 F.3d at 129 (internal quotations and
alterations omitted). If, however, “a searching review
of the record” assures the reviewing court “that
the substance of the treating physician rule was not
traversed, ” the court should affirm the ALJ's
decision despite his “failure to ‘explicitly'
apply the Burgess factors.” See Estrella
v. Berryhill, 925 F.3d 90, 96 (2d Cir. 2019).
Leon Reyfman, plaintiff's treating pain management
physician, opined that plaintiff was “100% unable to
work.” Dr. Alan Dayan, plaintiff's orthopedic
surgeon, likewise opined that plaintiff “is 100%
impaired from her prior level of activity.” And Dr. R.
C. Krishna, plaintiff's treating neurologist, opined that
plaintiff had a 100% temporary impairment and a “temp.
gave these opinions “little weight, ” explaining
These opinions were not made for the claimant's social
security claim, but rather for his workers' compensation
claim, which rely on a different standard. These terms are
also very vague. It is unclear what a “total
disability” or a “temporarily total
disability” means or what are the significance of the
percentages. They also do not spell out the claimant's
exertional or non-exertional physical limitations due to her
impairments. In addition, these opinions are conclusory, and
determinations of disability are reserved for the
Commissioner. For these reasons, the undersigned collectively
gives these opinions little weight.
In addition, as for the opinion evidence, no treating source
has offered an opinion as to the nature and severity of the
claimant's impairments, or how they impact her ability to
perform basic work-related activities. Therefore, the rules
and regulations governing the weight due to a treating
physician are not applicable in this instance.
these observations, the Commissioner's argument is
simple: the impairment assessments must be disregarded
because, under the relevant regulations, they are not medical
opinions at all. I agree.
to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(a), “medical opinions are
statements from acceptable medical sources that reflect
judgments about the nature and severity of your
impairments(s), including your symptoms, diagnosis and
prognosis, what you can still do despite impairment(s), and
your physical or mental restrictions” (emphasis
added). However, § 414.1527(d)(1) makes clear that it is
the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), not
the treating physician, who may opine on whether a claimant
“meet[s] the statutory definition of disability.”
Indeed, a “statement by a medical source that you are
‘disabled' or ‘unable to work' does not
mean that [the SSA] will determine that [a claimant] is
disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(1).
usual case, a treating physician will provide, in some form,
specific conclusions as to a claimant's functional
capacities, supported by clinical findings. But here, Drs.
Reyfman, Dayan, and Krishna all concluded, without any
apparent findings as to plaintiff's specific functional
capacities or limitations, that plaintiff is 100% disabled.
That is a conclusion only the ALJ can make. Therefore, it was
not error for the ALJ to give these conclusions little
weight. See Trepanier v. Comm'r of Social Security
Admin., 752 Fed.Appx. 75, 77-78 (2d Cir. 2018)
(“[T]he ALJ reasonably and lawfully accorded no
weight” to the treating physician's opinion where
his “statement was not accompanied by clinical findings
designed to support his conclusory description; rather, his
use of the term [‘disabled'] seems to us incidental
to his review of numerous medical issues of varying
just because the ALJ properly gave plaintiff's treating
physicians' opinions little weight, his conclusions still
must be supported by substantial evidence in the record.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The Findings of
the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive.”); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 390 (1971). “The substantial evidence standard
means once an ALJ finds facts, [a court] can reject those
facts ‘only if a reasonable factfinder would have
to conclude ...