Martinez v. Commissioner of Social Security
OPINION ; signed by Chief Judge Robert J. Jonker (Chief Judge Robert J. Jonker, ymc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 1:15-CV-605
HON. ROBERT J. JONKER
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
This is a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner). Plaintiff Emma Martinez seeks review of the Commissioner’s decision denying
her claim for supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court’s jurisdiction is confined to a review of the Commissioner’s decision and
of the record made in the administrative hearing process. See Willbanks v. Sec’y of Health & Human
Servs., 847 F.2d 301, 303 (6th Cir. 1998). The scope of judicial review in a social security case is
limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in making her
decision and whether there exists in the record substantial evidence supporting that decision. See
Brainard v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court may not
conduct a de novo review of the case, resolve evidentiary conflicts, or decide questions of credibility.
See Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). It is the Commissioner who is charged
with finding the facts relevant to an application for disability benefits, and her findings are
conclusive provided they are supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. See
Cohen v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted).
It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347 (6th Cir.
1993). In determining the substantiality of the evidence, the Court must consider the evidence on
the record as a whole and take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight.
See Richardson v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 735 F.2d 962, 963 (6th Cir. 1984). The
substantial evidence standard presupposes the existence of a zone within which the decision maker
can properly rule either way, without judicial interference. See Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545
(6th Cir. 1986) (citation omitted). This standard affords to the administrative decision maker
considerable latitude, and indicates that a decision supported by substantial evidence will not be
reversed simply because the evidence would have supported a contrary decision. See Bogle, 998
F.2d at 347; Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545.
Plaintiff was 41 years of age on the date of the Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ)
decision. (PageID.36, 54.) She left school in the eleventh grade and has no past relevant work.
(PageID.56, 77.) Plaintiff applied for benefits under both Title II and Title XVI on October 5, 2012,
alleging that she had been disabled since July 31, 2011, due to a back injury.1 (PageID.69, 138–48.)
Based on the Court’s review of the record, it appears that Plaintiff likely meant to allege an
onset date of July 31, 2010, a date around the time of a surgery on her back. This is what Plaintiff
alleged at the hearing, although Plaintiff’s counsel did not ask to amend the onset date. (PageID.60.)
Plaintiff’s Title II application was denied on October 13, 2012, due to a lack of earnings history, and
her Title XVI application was denied on December 18, 2012. Plaintiff thereafter appealed the ALJ’s
denial of her SSI claim by requesting a hearing before an ALJ. (PageID.82–93.) On October 30,
2013, Plaintiff appeared with her counsel before ALJ Paul Jones for an administrative hearing in
which Plaintiff testified. (PageID.51–67.) In a written decision dated December 6, 2013, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.36–50.) On April 12, 2015, the Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ’s decision, making it the Commissioner’s final decision in the
matter. (PageID.24–29.) Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
The social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential process for evaluating
disability. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a-f), 416.920(a-f).2 If the Commissioner can make a
dispositive finding at any point in the review, no further finding is required. See 20 C.F.R.
An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be
found to be “disabled” regardless of medical findings (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b));
An individual who does not have a “severe impairment” will not be found “disabled”
(20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c));
If an individual is not working and is suffering from a severe impairment which
meets the duration requirement and which “meets or equals” a listed impairment in
Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Regulations No. 4, a finding of “disabled” will be made
without consideration of vocational factors (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d));
If an individual is capable of performing work he or she has done in the past, a
finding of “not disabled” must be made (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e));
If an individual’s impairment is so severe as to preclude the performance of past
work, other factors including age, education, past work experience, and residual
functional capacity must be considered to determine if other work can be performed.
(20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f)).
§§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The regulations also provide that if a claimant suffers from a
nonexertional impairment as well as an exertional impairment, both are considered in determining
the claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC). See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945.
Plaintiff has the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused
by her impairments and that she is precluded from performing past relevant work through step four.
Jones v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). At step five, it is the
Commissioner’s burden “to identify a significant number of jobs in the economy that accommodate
the claimant’s residual functional capacity (determined at step four) and vocational profile.” Id.
ALJ Jones determined Plaintiff’s claim failed at the second step of the evaluation.
At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
October 5, 2012, the application date. (PageID.41.) At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had
the following medically determinable impairments: (1) spondyloarthropathy without herniation or
impingement; (2) right foot drop; (3) benign hypertension; and (4) obesity. (PageID.41.) The ALJ
determined, however, that these were not severe impairments because they did not significantly limit
(or were expected to significantly limit) her ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12
consecutive months. (PageID.41.) In doing so, the ALJ provided a discussion of the medical
evidence as well as Plaintiff’s testimony, and noted that no doctor had opined that she was disabled
or provided any functional limitations or restrictions. (PageID.44.) Having made his determination
at step two, the ALJ ended his analysis and entered a finding that Plaintiff was not disabled from her
application date through the date of the decision. (PageID.46.)
Plaintiff’s Statement of Errors presents the following claims:
The ALJ erroneously terminated the sequential evaluation process at the
second step of the sequential evaluation process; and
New and material evidence demonstrates that this case should be remanded
pursuant to sentence six.
(PageID.338.) The Court will discuss the issues below.
The issue before the Court is whether Plaintiff established that she suffered from a
“severe impairment” at step two of the sequential evaluation. A “severe impairment” is defined as
an impairment or combination of impairments “which significantly limits your physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Under the Social Security Act, a
disability is defined as the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has
lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a); Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990). The
determination of a severe impairment at step two is used as an “administrative convenience to screen
out claims that are totally groundless solely from a medical standpoint.” Higgs v. Bowen, 880 F.2d
860, 862–63 (6th Cir. 1988).
[I]n this Circuit the step two severity regulation codified at 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(c) and 404.1521 has been construed as a de minimis
hurdle in the disability determination process. Under the prevailing
de minimis view, an impairment can be considered not severe only if
it is a slight abnormality that minimally affects work ability regardless
of age, education, and experience.
Id. at 862. “Under this standard, the question in the present case is whether there is substantial
evidence in the record supporting the ALJ’s finding that [Plaintiff] has only a ‘slight’ impairment
that does not affect her ability to work.” Farris v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 773 F.2d 85, 90
(6th Cir. 1985).
Here, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s medical condition presented such a “slight”
impairment as to fail to reach the “de minimus hurdle” of a severe impairment. The ALJ relied in
part on the requirements set forth in SSR 85-28, “Titles II and XVI: Medical Impairments That Are
Not Severe” which provides in pertinent part as follows:
The severity requirement cannot be satisfied when medical evidence
shows that the person has the ability to perform basic work activities,
as required in most jobs. Examples of these are walking, standing,
sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying or handling;
seeing, hearing, and speaking; understanding, carrying out, and
remembering simple instructions; use of judgment, responding
appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and usual work situations;
and dealing with changes in a routine work setting. Thus, these basic
work factors are inherent in making a determination that an individual
does not have a severe medical impairment.
SSR 85-28, 1985 WL 56856, at *3 (1985).3
The record begins with a June 22, 2010, X-Ray on Plaintiff’s spine due to back pain.
(PageID.297.) While there was some disc space narrowing at L5-S1, Dr. Ellen Cavenagh found that
Plaintiff had only mild degenerative changes. (PageID.297.) A month later, it appears that Plaintiff
suffered a fall that caused severe back and knee pain. This appears to be the basis for Plaintiff’s
disability claim. (PageID.60, 283.) After the fall, Plaintiff sought treatment in which X-Rays and
ultrasounds revealed negative results. (PageID.291, 293, 295.) However MRI scans on Plaintiff’s
Social Security Rulings (SSR’s) “are binding on all components of the Social Security
Administration” and “represent precedent final opinions and orders and statements of policy and
interpretations” adopted by the agency. 20 C.F.R. § 402.35(b)(1). While SSR’s do not have the
force of law, they are an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations and are “entitled to substantial
deference and will be upheld unless plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.” Kornecky
v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 167 F. App’x 496, 498 (6th Cir. 2006).
back dated July 27, 2010 revealed an “extrusion of disc with free fragment that may be sequestered
at this level, severely compromises the exiting S1 nerve root.” (PageID.283–84.) Another MRI on
Plaintiff’s right knee led the reviewing physician to suspect a partial tear of Plaintiff’s ACL as well
as a tear of the posterior horn and medial meniscus. (PageID.286–87.) It appears Plaintiff
subsequently underwent surgery. A discharge note from Sparrow Health system stated that Plaintiff
was being discharged with a L5-S1 lumbar microdiscectomy.4 She was instructed regarding wound
care, a diabetic diet, and fall precautions. She was also instructed to schedule follow up visits with
her physicians. (PageID.209.)
After the discharge in July 2010, the record contains a few notes relating to
complaints apparently unrelated to her fall. On November 27, 2010, Plaintiff had a CT scan of her
abdomen and pelvis for a complaint of pain. (PageID.277.) The test revealed no abnormal or
remarkable findings, however, and there was no acute process identified. (PageID.277.) An
ultrasound of her abdomen on the same date found some evidence of a fatty change in her liver, but
no gallbladder disease. (PageID.279.) On January 5, 2011, Plaintiff had an X-Ray on her right hip
due to complaints of right-sided pain. (PageID.275.) The result was a negative study, as there was
satisfactory alignment, and no evidence of a fracture of other bony abnormality. (PageID.275.)
It wasn’t until May 31, 2011, when Plaintiff visited Dr. Michael Mangan, D.O. for
a refill of her medications that the record demonstrates Plaintiff sought further treatment for her back
A microdiscectomy is a surgery in which “a small portion of the bone over the
nerve root and/or disc material from under the nerve root is removed to relieve neural impingement
and provide more room for the nerve to heal.” Peter F. Ullrich, Jr. Microdiscetomy
e-surgery (last visited May 10, 2016).
pain. (PageID.234.) At the visit, Plaintiff described continuing chronic low back pain since her
surgery. Plaintiff stated that she was unable to visit with the surgeon nor take physical therapy as
she had to care for her five year old child. She reported she was able to ride a bike and do home
exercises. (PageID.234.) On exam, Plaintiff scored 5/5 on lower extremity muscle strength,
although there was decreased sensation along her right distal thigh, her lateral right leg, and right
third through fifth toes. (PageID.235.) Plaintiff’s medications were refilled and she was referred
to neurosurgery. Dr. Mangan also indicated that a repeat MRI and pain injections may be
The record next contains several treatment records from Dr. Lynn Hartman. On
July 6, 2011, Plaintiff sought another refill of her medication. She again described chronic low back
pain, but this time with symptoms appearing only several months ago. Plaintiff also stated she
experienced weakness in her right leg. (PageID.229.) Under a “review of symptoms” Dr. Hartman
noted that Plaintiff was “positive for back pain and gait problem.” After performing a physical
exam, Dr. Hartman found Plaintiff had a decrease of motion and decreased strength at the right hip.
(PageID.230.) The doctor noted that Plaintiff needed to see a neurosurgeon to clear her for physical
therapy, and that the surgeon may want to order an MRI. (PageID.229.) Later that month Plaintiff
again saw Dr. Hartman for a medication refill. At this visit, Plaintiff complained of low back pain
for the past three to four years, that the pain was made worse with bending or lifting, and that it
radiated down her legs. It was noted that Plaintiff appeared with an antalgic gait, with a reduced
range of motion. (PageID.227.) Plaintiff also had a positive straight leg raise test at thirty degrees
bilaterally. However she had normal motor strength, sensation, and a heel and toe gait. An X-Ray
was not indicated. (PageID.227.) Dr. Hartman advised a home care exercise program and discussed
proper lifting techniques. Plaintiff was also advised to avoid heavy lifting. (PageID.227.) It was
further noted that Plaintiff may want to consult with a pain clinic for injections as it was anticipated
that Plaintiff would develop a tolerance to her pain medications. (PageID.227.) On August 31,
2011, Plaintiff saw Dr. Hartman to review lab results regarding her diabetes. She was described as
being in compliance with a diabetic diet, and there were no symptoms or concerns. (PageID.225.)
This was the last note in the record from Dr. Hartman.
The next treatment note appears over a year later on October 19, 2012, when Plaintiff
began treating with Dr. Christopher Chiou, M.D. (PageID.219.) At the first visit, Plaintiff
complained of back pain due to the July 2010 fall. Plaintiff stated she had undergone physical
therapy, epidural injections, surgery, and medications, but that only her medications provided relief.
She noted, however, that she had recently changed her insurance and had run out of all her pain
medications. It is unclear how long Plaintiff had gone without taking medication. (PageID.219.)
Plaintiff also stated she had a foot drop on her right foot, and noted that there was weakness in the
area. Finally, Plaintiff complained of a dull chest pain that had been ongoing for two months.
(PageID.219.) On exam, Plaintiff had decreased strength in her right foot. A right foot drop was
also observed. (PageID.220.) Dr. Chiou noted that even though her back pain was chronic, “the
associated foot drop worries me. Thus I belive [sic] that an urgent consultation with neurosurgery
is warranted.” (PageID.220.) Dr. Chiou ordered the consult and also ordered a stress echo for
Plaintiff’s chest pain, but noted an EKG found no acute ischemia. (PageID.221.) Plaintiff’s pain
medications were refilled, and an additional medication to control Plaintiff’s blood pressure was
A few days later, on October 24, 2012, Plaintiff went to the ER complaining of right
knee pain. She stated she rolled over in bed and felt something tear. (PageID.199.) An X-Ray,
however, was negative. Plaintiff was given some pain medication, advised to use ice and crutches,
and to follow up with an orthopedic surgeon, though it is unclear from the record whether Plaintiff
did so. (PageID.203.)
On October 30, 2012, Plaintiff had an MRI on her lumbar spine. It was noted
Plaintiff had a clinical history of hip pain and foot drop. (PageID.206.) The MRI found disc space
narrowing with disc desiccation. There was mild diffuse bulging and mild to moderate bilateral
neural foraminal narrowing. There was no extrusion or central canal stenosis. At L4-L5 there mild
desiccation, bulging, and inferior neural foraminal narrowing. (PageID.206.) The impression was
a mild to moderate spondyloarthropathy with no extrusion or nerve root impingement.
(PageID.207.) On November 20, 2012, Plaintiff met with Dr. Chiou to discuss the MRI results and
for a medication refill. Dr Chiou noted a “confusing” medical history, as the recent MRI found
spondyloarthropathy, but no impingement, herniations or post-operative changes. (PageID.214.)
He also noted that Plaintiff had been out of her medications for two months, but did not require
medication until the day before. It is unclear, then, whether Plaintiff had filled the prescription that
was prescribed by Dr. Chiou on October 19, 2012. (PageID.219.) On exam, Plaintiff had a normal
range of motion, but tenderness to palpation on her lumbar spine. (PageID.215.) She was positive
for back pain, but negative for any joint swelling, arthralgias or gait problem. (PageID.215.)
Dr. Chiou noted that Plaintiff stated her foot drop had resolved since the last visit a month earlier,
and that she had not followed up with a neurosurgeon. Dr. Chiou refilled Plaintiff’s medications,
but indicated that because he still believed that it was “vital” she consult with a neurosurgeon, he
would not refill the medications again until she did so. Plaintiff was also given a drug screen.
(PageID.216.) Ten days later, however, in a patient care coordination note, Dr. Chiou noted that
Plaintiff’s drug test had come back positive for THC, and that Plaintiff did not return his phone calls.
Dr. Chiou asked that Plaintiff not be prescribed any further pain medications.5 (PageID.213.) This
is the last note from Dr. Chiou.
Plaintiff next began treating with Dr. Peter Cooke. On the first visit, dated August 6,
2013, Plaintiff complained of unexpected weight loss and a urinary tract infection. (PageID.305.)
Dr. Cooke noted Plaintiff’s history of anxiety and chronic back pain, and further noted that Plaintiff
had not been taking her anxiety medication for the last six months, but was regularly receiving
cortisone injections for her back pain. While Plaintiff had a positive right straight leg raise test, it
does not appear that Dr. Cooke prescribed any treatment during that visit. (PageID.305.) Plaintiff
returned to Dr. Cooke on August 29, 2013. The doctor noted that Plaintiff had visited the ER two
weeks earlier for pancreitis, and was still experiencing the same pain.6 Plaintiff further reported she
was unable to eat, and was having trouble sleeping. She still experienced back pain. It was noted
that Celexa made her cry and feel depressed.7 (PageID.304.) Subsequent treatment notes refer to
a hospital admission for further observation, but that Plaintiff left against medical advice due to
At the hearing, Plaintiff indicated she smoked marijuana and ate brownies containing
marijuana. Plaintiff stated she had a license for medical marijuana, though notes to that effect do
not appear in the record. (PageID.61.)
On August 9, 2013, Plaintiff had a CT and ultrasound scan on her abdomen, apparently
connected to her ER visit. The CT scan revealed no acute findings. The ultrasound found a
dominant follicular cyst within the left overy, but no acute abnormalities in the pelvis.
The record shows Celexa was continually prescribed to Plaintiff (PageID.225, 228.) It
appears this is the first time Plaintiff had complaints regarding the medication.
The record, however, does not contain any notes regarding this visit.
On September 19, 2013, Plaintiff had an ultrasound of her abdomen after complaining
of pain. The focus appeared to be on the gallbladder, however the study turned out to be
unremarkable. (PageID.303.) The last treatment note in the record is a note from the ER in which
Plaintiff sought treatment for chest pain on September 24, 2013.8 (PageID.315.) It was noted that
Plaintiff has a history of anxiety, hypertension, and chronic back pain. (PageID.315.) An EKG
returned normal results, however, and it appears the physician believed Plaintiff was suffering from
menstrual cramps. The last note reflected that Plaintiff was feeling better. (PageID.321.)
Based on the above, the Court agrees with Dr. Chiou that Plaintiff’s medical history,
as it exists on this record, is “confusing.” The parties apparently do not dispute that Plaintiff had
surgery on her back, but there are only minimal records relating to the surgery, and no follow up
records from her surgeon. Perhaps due to a lack of insurance, or for other unknown reasons, Plaintiff
went long periods without taking prescribed medication and scheduling visits with physicians.
Considering the above, the Court concludes the ALJ has presented an arguably persuasive rationale
as to why Plaintiff should ultimately be denied disability benefits, but finds that substantial evidence
does not support the ALJ’s determination that Plaintiff’s claim failed at step 2. The treatment
records from Dr. Hartman demonstrate that Plaintiff had weakness in her right leg that caused her
to walk with an antalgic gait. Dr. Hartman also advised Plaintiff to avoid heavy lifting. The notes
from Dr. Chiou show that even with the October 30, 2012 MRI, and Plaintiff’s reported resolution
An opinion from Dr. Cooke that was not considered by the ALJ and that post-dates the
administrative hearing will be discussed in the next section.
of her foot drop, he still believed it was vital that Plaintiff consult a neurosurgeon. Even after the
MRI, Plaintiff presented with a positive straight leg raise test. While the Court would prefer a more
complete record, as it is the record shows Plaintiff’s impairments are more than a slight impairment
such that it passes the de minimus hurdle required in this Circuit. Accordingly this matter will be
remanded to the Commissioner for further consideration with instructions to continue the sequential
While the Court finds that the ALJ’s decision fails to comply with the relevant legal
standards, Plaintiff can be awarded benefits only if proof of her disability is “compelling.” Faucher
v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 17 F.3d 171, 176 (6th Cir. 1994) (the court can reverse the
Commissioner’s decision and award benefits if all essential factual issues have been resolved and
proof of disability is compelling). While the ALJ’s decision fails to comply with the relevant legal
standard, there does not exist compelling evidence that Plaintiff is disabled.
Plaintiff appeared with her counsel for the administrative hearing on October 30,
2013. (PageID.51.) At the hearing, Plaintiff appeared in a wheelchair and claimed that she needed
assistance with showering. She further claimed that a doctor had told her she needed a wheelchair,
but that her insurance would not pay for it, so she obtained one from a garage sale. (PageID.55–56.)
The record through the hearing, however, does not contain a prescription for a wheelchair. On
November 22, 2013, between the hearing and the ALJ’s December 6, 2013 decision, Dr. Cooke filled
out a two-page worksheet containing check-boxes and blanks for short answers. The gist of
Dr. Cooke’s opinion was that Plaintiff needed a wheelchair, and could not stand on her own.
(PageID.323–24.) While the opinion was submitted to the Appeals Council, it was not considered
by the ALJ. Plaintiff argues that the case should be remanded for further consideration of the
opinion under sentence six.
When a plaintiff submits evidence that has not been presented to the ALJ, a court may
consider the evidence only for the limited purpose of deciding whether to issue a sentence-six
remand under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Sizemore v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 865 F.2d 709,
711 (6th Cir. 1988) (per curiam). In a sentence-six remand, a court does not rule in any way on the
correctness of the administrative decision, neither affirming, modifying, nor reversing the
Commissioner’s decision. See Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 98 (1991).
The standard in determining whether to remand a claim for the consideration of new
evidence is governed by statute, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides in pertinent part that “[t]he court
. . . may at any time order the additional evidence to be taken before the Secretary, but only upon a
showing that there is new evidence which is material and that there is good cause for the failure to
incorporate such evidence into the record in a prior proceeding.” “In order to obtain a remand for
further administrative proceedings, Section 405(g) clearly requires a showing of both materiality and
good cause.” Cline v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 96 F.3d 146, 149 (6th Cir. 1996). Good cause is shown
for a sentence-six remand only “if the new evidence arises from continued medical treatment of the
condition, and was not generated merely for the purpose of attempting to prove disability.” Koulizos
v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 802 F.2d 458, 1986 WL 17488 at *2 (6th Cir. Aug.19, 1986).
In order for a claimant to satisfy the burden of proof as to materiality, she “must demonstrate that
there was a reasonable probability that the [Commissioner] would have reached a different
disposition of the disability claim if presented with the new evidence.” Sizemore, 865 F.2d at 711.
To the extent that Plaintiff seeks a sentence-six remand for further consideration of
this matter under sentence six, such a request should be denied because Plaintiff has not shown that
there is good cause for failing to present this evidence to the ALJ. A review of the transcript from
the administrative hearing shows it was readily apparent how the ALJ would rule, and it appears
Dr. Cooke’s letter was drafted as an attempt to persuade the ALJ to come to a different conclusion.
The good cause requirement is not met by the solicitation of a medical opinion to contest the ALJ’s
decision. See Perkins v. Chater, 107 F.3d 1290, 1296 (7th Cir.1997) (observing that the grant of
automatic permission to supplement the administrative record with new evidence after the ALJ
issues a decision in the case would seriously undermine the regularity of the administrative process);
see Koulizos, 1986 WL 17488 at *2. Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate good cause.
Even if Plaintiff had good cause for failing to present this evidence, Dr. Cooke’s
completed worksheet is not material. The worksheet consists largely of checked boxes and short
conclusory phrases that Plaintiff cannot stand, and provides no accompanying explanation for the
doctor’s opinion. The record also contains no treatment note for the last date that the doctor
supposedly examined Plaintiff. The Sixth Circuit has recently stated that similar worksheets,
unaccompanied by any explanation, as here, are “weak evidence at best.” Hernandez v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., No. 15-1875, 2016 WL 1055828, at *4 (6th Cir. Mar. 17, 2016); see also Keeton v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 583 F. App’x 515, 525 (6th Cir. 2014) (“A case cannot be decided in reliance
on a medical opinion without some reasonable support for the opinion.”) (quoting SSR 96-2p).
Accordingly, Plaintiff’s request is denied for a failure to show good cause and materiality. The Court
notes, however, that the case is being remanded under sentence four, and accordingly Plaintiff will
have an opportunity to further argue her case for benefits.
For the reasons articulated herein, the undersigned concludes that the ALJ’s decision
is not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner’s decision is REVERSED
and this matter is REMANDED under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On remand, the
Commissioner is directed to continue the sequential analysis.
May 19, 2016
/s/ Robert J. Jonker
ROBERT J. JONKER
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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