Sumner v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner in this case is REVERSED and the case is REMANDED for further proceedings, as set forth above. A separate Judgment shall accompany this Memorandum and Order. Signed by District Judge Audrey G. Fleissig on 8/21/2014. (NCL)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
Case No. 2:13CV00070 AGF/DDN
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court for judicial review of the decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security to deny Plaintiff supplemental security income under
Title XVI of the Social Security Act and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the
Act. Upon careful consideration of the Report and Recommendation of the United States
Magistrate to whom this matter was referred for recommended disposition pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b), and the administrative record, the Court declines to adopt the
recommendation of the Magistrate Judge that the Commissioner’s decision should be
Plaintiff did not file objections to the Magistrate Judge’s Report and
Recommendation (Doc. No. 28), and the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge’s recitation
of the facts of the case, including Plaintiff’s medical history and the testimony at the
evidentiary hearing before the ALJ. The Court also adopts the Magistrate Judge’s review
of the general legal principles applicable to this case. But the Court finds several
problems with the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) that Plaintiff was
not disabled within the meaning of the Act that lead the Court to conclude that the case
should be remanded for further proceedings. Specifically, upon remand the
Commissioner is to obtain opinions from medical experts on Plaintiff’s mental and
physical impairments, reevaluate Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity based upon those
opinions and the record as a whole, and issue a new decision.
The Court believes that the ALJ’s analysis of the weight due a claimant’s global
assessment of functioning (“GAF”) scores is flawed.1 Furthermore, as noted by the
Magistrate Judge, the ALJ discounted the opinion of a licensed psychologist, who found
serious mental impairments, due to the psychologist’s lack of a medical or doctorate
degree, whereas the Commissioner’s regulations include licensed psychologists as
acceptable medical sources. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513(a)(2). Moreover, in discounting this
source’s opinions, the ALJ stated that they did not take into account the longitudinal
picture of the Plaintiff’s functioning. But this source examined the Plaintiff on two
separate occasions 13 months apart, suggesting he did have a longitudinal picture.
After discounting the above evidence that Plaintiff’s mental limitations are quite
serious, the only medical opinion the ALJ relies on to find that they were not terribly
serious are the notations of Plaintiff’s relatively-new treating physician for his physical
The ALJ gave “little weight” to Plaintiff’s GAF scores during relevant time period
(scores of 40 to 50, indicating major to serious impairment in social and occupational
functioning) on the ground that a GFA score represents a level of functioning only on a
particular day and hour, and on the ground that the score “may have little bearing on an
individual’s social and occupational functioning.”
problems, that Plaintiff’s mental status was "within normal limits" and his affect normal,
and that he was not psychotic, suicidal, homicidal, or delusional. But the same physician
opined that Plaintiff does not cope with stress well, and would have to be out of work
five to ten times a month; the vocational expert testified that missing four days a month
would preclude all work.
The Court also finds problematic the following musings of the ALJ in discounting
the opinion of Plaintiff’s treating physician on the severity of Plaintiff’s physical
The possibility always exists that a doctor may express an opinion in an
effort to assist a patient with whom he sympathized for one reason or
another. Another reality, which should be mentioned, is that patients can
be quite insistent and demanding in seeking supportive notes or reports
from their physicians, who might satisfy their patient’s requests and avoid
unnecessary doctor/patient tension. While it is difficult to confirm such
motives, they are more likely in situations where the opinion departs
substantially from the rest of the evidence of record.
In sum, the Court concludes that the Commissioner’s decision is not supported by
the record as a whole.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner in this case is
REVERSED and the case is REMANDED for further proceedings, as set forth above.
A separate Judgment shall accompany this Memorandum and Order.
AUDREY G. FLEISSIG
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated this 21st day of August, 2014.
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