Morris v. Social Security Administration
ORDER affirming the denial of Morris's applications for benefits 2 . Signed by Judge D. P. Marshall Jr. on 9/10/12. (kpr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
PINE BLUFF DIVISION
DEBORAH F. MORRIS
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
1. Deborah F. Morris sought disability benefits, claiming she became
disabled in September 2005. The ALJ determined Morris became disabled in
March 2009 on her fiftieth birthday. Morris appeals, maintaining she was
disabled by mental impairments sooner. The ultimate question is whether
substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s determination that Morris was not
disabled between September 2005 and March 2009. But Morris attacks only
one aspect of the ALJ’s decision—his consideration of Dr. Stephen
Broughton’s opinion. Ten days before Morris’s hearing, Dr. Broughton
concluded that Morris would miss work about twice per month. This opinion
is important because the vocational expert testified that a person who misses
work twice a month cannot sustain a job. Morris says Dr. Broughton was her
treating psychiatrist; the ALJ therefore erred on the law, she continues, by not
giving the opinion controlling weight. Dolph v. Barnhart, 308 F.3d 876, 878
(8th Cir. 2002).
2. The ALJ did not err. The ALJ must give a treating psychiatrist’s
opinion “controlling weight” if 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), 416.927(c)(2). A
treating psychiatrist is someone who provides, or has provided, the claimant
with medical treatment or evaluation, and has, or has had, an ongoing
treatment relationship with the claimant. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1502, 416.902. An
ongoing treatment relationship exists when medical evidence shows the
claimant sees, or has seen, the psychiatrist “with a frequency consistent with
accepted medical practice for the type of treatment and/or evaluation
required for [her] medical condition(s).” Ibid.
Instead of expressly stating the weight given to Dr. Broughton’s
opinion, the ALJ wrote that it was “not known how long the claimant had
been treated by Dr. Broughton.” The record, however, shows Dr. Broughton
saw Morris only once—on 22 December 2008 for a psychiatric evaluation.Dr.
Broughton’s opinion identified the psychiatric evaluation as the only time he
That single visit was insufficient to establish an ongoing treatment
relationship because the evaluation report shows Dr. Broughton lacked
“sufficient knowledge upon which to formulate an opinion as to [Morris’s]
ability to function in a workplace.” Randolph v. Barnhart, 386 F.3d 835, 840
(8th Cir. 2004). For example, Morris was Dr. Broughton’s only source of
information about her medical condition. Morris reported to Broughton that
she had a stroke and a heart attack. Ibid. Neither report was true.
The inaccuracy undermined Dr. Broughton’s opinion because he did not
attribute absenteeism solely to mental impairment. Instead, Dr. Broughton
opined that Morris would miss work “primarily” because of her medical
conditions. Dr. Broughton did not confirm Morris’s account of her medical
history because Morris asked him not to communicate with her primary care
physician. As a result, Dr. Broughton’s opinion was based on inaccurate
In addition, the single visit provided no basis for determining the
effectiveness of Morris’s treatment plan.
Dr. Broughton prescribed
psychotropic drugs and indicated he would see Morris the following month.
But the record contains no evidence of a later visit. Without follow up, Dr.
Broughton could not assess the effectiveness of prescribed treatment. Dr.
Broughton lacked sufficient knowledge upon which to formulate an opinion
about Morris’s ability to function in a workplace because he lacked an ongoing treatment relationship with Morris. And in the absence of that kind of
relationship, Dr. Broughton’s opinion was not entitled to controlling weight.
Cf. Randolph, 386 F.3d at 840.
3. The ALJ properly considered Dr. Broughton’s opinion as one among
several about how Morris’s mental limitations affected her ability to work
between September 2005 and March 2009.
Whatever slight weight
Dr. Broughton’s June 2009 opinion had, the record contains plenty of wellfounded medical evidence about the disputed three-and-a-half-year period.
For example, in April 2007, Dr. Elliot D. Salk examined Morris. He is an
agency psychologist. Dr. Salk reported that during his examination Morris
“appeared depressed and anxious as evidenced by tearfulness, crying and
occasionally legs shaking,” but he observed Morris “in the waiting room
smiling and engaging the receptionist in a conversation.”
characterized Morris as “guarded and reticent to provide details in support
of her claims.” Ibid. Unlike Dr. Broughton, Dr. Salk included the results of
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. Dr. Salk
found Morris’s abilities to do work-related activities moderately limited in
three of twenty rated areas. Those findings did not preclude Morris from
working because Dr. Salk defined “moderate limitation” as “fair/limited but
not precluded.” Ibid. Dr. Salk’s opinion is substantial evidence supporting
the ALJ’s decision because a reasonable mind would accept the opinion as
adequate to support the conclusion that Morris was not disabled due to
mental impairment between September 2005 and March 2009. Slusser v.
Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009).
The Court affirms the denial of Morris’s applications for benefits.
D.P. Marshall Jr.
United States District Judge
10 September 2012
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