Harris v. Colvin
ORDER Signed by Magistrate Judge F. Keith Ball on 7/26/17. A separate judgment will be entered. (dfk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
ALICIA MONET HARRIS
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:16cv50-FKB
NANCY A BERRYHILL,
Commissioner of Social
Alicia Monet Harris filed for adult child disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income alleging disability beginning May 1, 2012, because of
lupus.1 After her applications were denied both initially and upon reconsideration, she
requested and was granted a hearing before an ALJ. The hearing was held on October
10, 2014, and on November 26, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Harris was
not disabled. The appeals council denied review. Harris now brings this appeal
pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Having considered
the memoranda of the parties and the administrative record, the Court concludes that
the decision of the Commissioner should be reversed and this matter remanded to the
Harris was born on May 9, 1995, and was (19) years of age at the time of the
ALJ’s decision. She was a community college student at the time of her hearing and
has no relevant work experience. In May of 2012, Harris was admitted to Oschner
Medical Center and diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) with multi-
A disabled adult child of someone who meets the requirements for old age or disability insurance
benefits, or who has died, may qualify for benefits based upon the parent’s work history if he or she can
demonstrate an onset of disability before the age of 22. 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a).
organ complications including class IV lupus nephritis, moderate restrictive lung
disease, pleural effusion, and pericardial effusion.  at 199-206, R. at 195-202. She
was begun on immunosuppressant therapy.  at 201, R. at 197. Harris was
discharged after three weeks in stable condition.  at 204, R. at 200.
The primary physician coordinating Harris’s care is Dr. Kismet Collins, a
rheumatologist at Oschner, whom Harris has seen on a regular basis since her
diagnosis. The medical record indicates that since her hospitalization, she has had
problems with anemia, fatigue, headaches, abdominal pain, joint pain, depression, and
anxiety. Her nephritis has been stable, as has her shortness of breath.
On October 31, 2012, Dr. Collins provided a written statement summarizing
Harris’s medical history and prognosis. Dr. Collins explained that Harris was being
treated for SLE manifested by nephritis, pleuritis, pericarditis, severe anemia requiring
multiple transfusions, and thrombocytopenia.  at 384, R. at 380. She stated that
Harris is on immunosuppressive medications and antihypertensive medication. Id. Dr.
Collins described Harris’s medications as high-risk and stated that she is at risk for
relapse. Id. Specifically, Dr. Collins noted that Harris had developed profound
neutropenia in August of 2012, resulting in a temporary discontinuation of her
immunosuppressants. Id. Dr. Collins stated that Harris would at times be absent from
school because of regular doctor visits and blood work. Id. Dr. Collins characterized
Harris’s prognosis as guarded. Id.
Dr. Collins completed a lupus impairment questionnaire on July 19, 2013, in
which she described Harris’s primary current symptoms as abdominal pain, headache,
fatigue, depression, shortness of breath, ankle swelling, anemia, arthralgia of the knees,
and peripheral edema.  at 432-33, R. at 428-29. Dr. Collins stated that Harris cannot
currently work a 5-day work week.  at 433, R. at 429. She opined that in a normal
work day, Harris can sit 0-1 hour, can stand/walk 0-1 hour, can lift no amount, and
cannot push, pull, kneel, bend, or stoop.  at 433-35, R. at 429-31. Dr. Collins
estimated that Harris would likely be absent from work more than three times a month
as a result of her impairments or treatment.  at 434, R. at 430. Finally, she opined
that Harris’s pain and other symptoms were severe enough to interfere frequently with
her attention and concentration.  at 435, R. at 431.
In April of 2014, Dr. Collins wrote a letter to the disability accommodations office
at Harris’s community college requesting that Harris be housed in a private room in
order to reduce her risk of infections.  at 477, R. at 473. A letter from Dr. Collins to
that same office in August of 2014 stated Harris would require leniency with absences
and tardiness.  at 478, R. at 474
Also included in the record is the evaluation of Dr. Gregory McCormack, the
agency consultant who reviewed Harris’s medical records on April 15, 2013. Dr.
McCormack concluded that Harris has the residual functional capacity to perform light
work.  at 61-63, R. at 57-59.
At the hearing, Harris testified that she is in her second year of community
college, taking a full load, and maintaining a 3.6 GPA.  at 43-44, R. at 39-40. She
receives special accommodations in the form of a private dorm room and leniency with
tardiness and absences.  at 48-49, R. at 44-45. She estimated that in a typical week
she is tardy for class approximately two or three times and absent one time due to
either illness or medical appointments. Id. Harris stated that her symptoms include
fatigue, arthritis, shortness of breath, anxiety, depression, and abdominal pain.  at
45, 50, R. at 41, 46. According to Harris, her arthritis has progressed since her
diagnosis, but her shortness of breath has improved.  at 45, R. at 41. In the
afternoon after her classes, she usually takes a three- or four-hour nap.  at 48, R. at
44. Harris suffers brief panic attacks approximately three times per month.  at 50, R.
at 46. She is able to drive but avoids driving long distances because of arthritis in her
elbow and shoulder.  at 44, R. at 40. Concerning her exertional abilities, Harris
estimated that she could lift or carry two pounds, stand 15 minutes at a time, sit 45
minutes at a time, and walk 100 yards.  at 46-47, R. at 42-43.
In his decision, the ALJ worked through the familiar sequential evaluation
process for determining disability.2 He found that Harris has the severe impairment of
In evaluating a disability claim, the ALJ is to engage in a five-step sequential process, making the
whether the claimant is presently engaging in substantial gainful activity (if so, a finding of
“not disabled” is made);
whether the claimant has a severe impairment (if not, a finding of “not disabled” is made);
whether the impairment is listed, or equivalent to an impairment listed, in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (if so, then the claimant is found to be disabled);
whether the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work (if not, the
claimant is found to be not disabled); and
whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing any other substantial
gainful activity (if so, the claimant is found to be disabled).
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The analysis ends at the point at which a finding of disability or non-disability is
required. The burden to prove disability rests upon the claimant throughout the first four steps; if the
claimant is successful in sustaining her burden through step four, the burden then shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995).
stage IV lupus nephritis.  at 25, R. at 21. At step three, the ALJ determined that
Harris does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 
at 27, R. at 23. The ALJ found that Harris has the residual functional capacity to
perform a wide range of sedentary work. Id. In making his determinations, the ALJ
gave little weight to the opinions of Dr. Collins.  at 30, R. at 26.3 The ALJ considered
Harris’s subjective allegations of limitations but found that they were “less than
credible.” Id. At step four, the ALJ found that Harris has no past relevant work.  at
31, R. at 27. At step five, the ALJ found, based upon the testimony of a vocational
expert, that Harris is capable of performing the jobs of receptionist, telephone sales
worker, and message taker.  at 32, R. at 28. The ALJ therefore found that Harris is
not disabled. Id.
In reviewing the Commissioner’s decision, this court is limited to an inquiry into
whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner and
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Muse v. Sullivan, 925
F.2d 785, 789 (5th Cir. 1991); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990). In
support of remand, Harris argues that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of Dr.
Collins without good cause and without providing the detailed analysis required by
Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448 (5th Cir. 2000). The Court agrees.
The Fifth Circuit has held that generally, a treating physician’s opinion as to the
nature and severity of a claimant’s impairment is to be given controlling weight if it is
The ALJ also gave little weight to the opinion of the agency consultant, who opined that Harris could
perform a wide range of light work.
well-supported by objective medical evidence and not inconsistent with other substantial
evidence. Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 175-76 (5th Cir. 1995). However, an ALJ
may give less weight, or even no weigh, to a treating physician’s opinion where there is
good cause shown. Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 237 (1994).
A special rule applies where there is no opinion of a treating or examining
physician that contradicts the opinion of a treating physician:
[A]bsent reliable medical evidence from a treating or examining physician
controverting the claimant’s treating specialist, an ALJ may reject the
opinion of the treating physician only if the ALJ performs a detailed
analysis of the treating physician’s views under the criteria set forth in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2).
Newton, 209 F.3d at 453 (emphasis in original). The criteria set forth in C.F.R. §
404.1527(d)(2) provide that the ALJ consider the following: (1) the length of the
relationship between the claimant and the treating physician, and the frequency of
examination; (2) the nature and extent of the treatment relationship; (3) the relevant
evidence supporting the opinion; (4) whether the treating physician’s opinion is
consistent with the record as a whole; (5) whether the treating physician is a specialist;
and (6) other factors which tend to support or contradict the opinion.
The only explanation provided by the ALJ for his rejection of Dr. Collins’s
opinions was that they were not consistent with overall evidence or with Dr. Collins’s
own treatment notes and that Dr. Collins’s August 2014 letter concerning
accommodations failed to quantify the extent of Harris’s expected absences or
tardiness.  at 30-31, R. at 26-27. There is no evidence in the ALJ’s written decision
that any consideration was given to the length and nature of the relationship and the
frequency with which Harris has been examined by Dr. Collins, nor to the fact that Dr.
Collins is a specialist at one of the country’s most respected medical institutions.
Furthermore, the record contains no medical evidence from a treating or examining
physician that contradicts Dr. Collins’s opinion. Thus, the ALJ failed to apply the correct
legal standard in that he did not comply with Newton’s mandate.
For these reasons, this matter is hereby remanded to the Commissioner. Upon
remand, the ALJ shall provide a detailed consideration, in accordance with 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(d)(2), of Dr. Collins’s opinions.
A separate judgement will be entered.
So ordered, this the 26th day of July, 2017.
s/ F. Keith Ball
United States Magistrate Judge
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