United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville
S. MATTICE, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
December 16, 2016, United States Magistrate Judge Clifton L.
Corker filed a Report and Recommendation (Doc. 34) pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 72(b). Magistrate Judge Corker recommended that:
(1) Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 31) be
granted; (2) Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. 32) be denied; and (3) that this case be remanded for
further proceedings. (Doc. 34 at 17).
basis for Magistrate Judge Corker's recommendation for
remand is that the ALJ failed to “give good
reasons” for not affording controlling weight to
Plaintiff's treating source opinion. (Id. at
16). Defendant filed timely objections to the Magistrate
Judge's Report and Recommendation. (Doc. 35).
Specifically, Defendant argues that: (1) the Magistrate Judge
erred in finding that the ALJ did not satisfy the procedural
safeguards of the treating physician rule; (2) substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's decision to give no
evidentiary weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating
physician; and (3) substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff's mental impairment
was not severe. The Court, having conducted a de
novo review of those portions of the record implicated
by Defendant's objections to the Report and
Recommendation, agrees with Magistrate Judge Corker's
well-reasoned conclusions for the reasons stated herein. 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(3).
TREATING PHYSICIAN RULE
Commissioner's regulations establish a hierarchy of
acceptable medical source opinions[.]'” Snell
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2013 WL 372032, at *9 (S.D.
Ohio Jan. 30, 2013). A treating physician's opinion must
be afforded “controlling weight” if it is
“well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and . . . not inconsistent
with the other substantial evidence in [the] case
record.” LaRiccia v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
549 Fed.Appx. 377, 384 (6th Cir. 2013). Courts bestow this
degree of deference to treating physician opinions because
they “are likely to be . . . most able to provide a
detailed, longitudinal picture of [a claimant's] 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[.]” 20 C.F.R. § 404.152(c)(2).
ALJ does not give a treating source opinion controlling
weight, he is still required to “determine how much
weight is appropriate by considering a number of factors,
including the length of the treatment relationship,
supportability of the opinion, consistency of the opinion
with the record as a whole, and any specialization of the
treating physician.” Blakely v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c). The United States
Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has stressed the
importance of disability decision makers clearly articulating
the weight they afford treating source opinions and their
Importantly, the Commissioner imposes on its decision makers
a clear duty to “always give good reasons in our notice
of determination or decision for the weight we give [a]
treating source's opinion.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(d)(2). Those good reasons must be “supported
by the evidence in the case record, and must be sufficiently
specific to make clear to any subsequent reviewers the weight
the adjudicator gave to the treating source's medical
opinion and the reasons for that weight.” Soc. Sec.
Rul. No. 96-2p, 1996 SSR LEXIS 9, at *12 (Soc. Sec. Admin.
July 2, 1996). This requirement is not simply a formality; it
is to safeguard the claimant's procedural rights. It is
intended “to let claimants understand the disposition
of their cases, particularly in situations where a clamant
knows that his physician has deemed him disabled and
therefore might be especially bewildered when told by an
administrative bureaucracy that he is not.”
Wilson, 378 F.3d at 544.
Cole v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir. 2011).
Thus, relevant authority requires the ALJ to both clearly
articulate his reasons for not assigning a treating physician
opinion controlling weight and that these reasons be
“good.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2).
Moreover, where an ALJ fails to adequately explain the weight
given to a treating source opinion, it is not enough that
substantial evidence otherwise supports his decision.
Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541,
543-44 (6th Cir. 2004) (“Although substantial evidence
otherwise supports the decision of the Commissioner in this
case, reversal is required because the agency failed to
follow its own procedural regulation, and the regulation was
intended to protect applicants like [the plaintiff].”).
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
Court will only outline those portions of the Report and
Recommendation that are relevant to Defendant's
objections. As outlined above, Magistrate Judge Corker found
that the ALJ erred in failing to adequately explain why he
assigned no evidentiary weight to the treating source opinion
issued by Dr. Harold Elliott. (Doc. 34 at 16). Dr. Elliott
was Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist for the duration of
her alleged period of disability. He also provided treatment
to Plaintiff before her alleged onset date of May 29, 2013.
In January 2013, Dr. Elliott issued a treating source opinion
regarding the severity of Plaintiff's limitations. (Doc.
22-8). This opinion was included in the medical records
considered by the ALJ. The ALJ disregarded Dr. Elliott's
opinion in his decision denying benefits, however, writing
only that the opinion “was prepared prior to the
amended alleged onset date” and concluding that it was
“not assigned evidentiary weight.” (Doc. 22-2 at
Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Corker addressed
Defendant's contention that Plaintiff failed to dispute
the ALJ's evaluation of any of her physicians'
opinions. Notwithstanding the brevity of Plaintiff's
arguments in this regard, the Magistrate Judge found
Plaintiff's submissions to be adequate as to Dr.
Elliott's opinion. Specifically, he reasoned, “Dr.
Elliott is set out in plaintiff's table of medical
sources, and it states that it was accorded no evidentiary
weight. This is an assertion of error in the making of that
finding, even if somewhat unartfully raised.”
Judge Corker then outlined relevant authority for the
treating physician rule, and found that the rule applied to
Dr. Elliott's opinion. He found that “the ALJ's
reason for giving the opinion no evidentiary weight, because
it was rendered before the claim was filed, is an
insufficient reason under the applicable regulations and the
cases cited above.” Id. Magistrate Judge
Corker noted that Dr. Elliott's opinion was
“rendered less than four months before the application
for benefits was filed.” Id. Finally, the
Magistrate Judge reasoned that although “there was
other evidence mentioned by the ALJ to support his finding
that the plaintiff did not have a severe impairment . . . .
that does not cure the failure to give good reasons for the
weight given to Dr. Elliott.” Id.
Plaintiff's assertion that the ALJ erred in finding that
she did not have a severe impairment, the Magistrate Judge
found that he could not determine that issue at the current
juncture. Rather, he found that its disposition “would
have to wait until ...