Thomas v. Commissioner of Social Security
MEMORANDUM and ORDER: Thomass motion 17 for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED and the Commissioners 18 is DENIED. This case is REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this Order. Ordered by Judge Frederic Block on 10/6/2021. (Innelli, Michael)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
MONIQUE MEDINA THOMAS
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
-againstANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration,
Case No. 1:20-cv-4236-FB
For the Plaintiff:
HOWARD D. OLINSKY
250 South Clinton St.
Syracuse, NY 13202
For the Defendant:
JACQUELINE M. KASULIS
Acting United States Attorney
Eastern District of New York
By: PAMELA MCKIMENS
Special Assistant United States Attorney
271-a Cadman Plaza East, Ste. 7117
Brooklyn, New York 11201
BLOCK, Senior District Judge:
Monique Medina Thomas (“Thomas”) seeks review of the Commissioner of
Social Security’s denial of her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”)
and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Both parties move for judgment on the
pleadings. For the following reasons, Thomas’s motion is granted, the
Commissioner’s denied, and this case remanded for further proceedings.
Thomas applied for DIB and SSI on July 19, 2017, claiming a disability
onset date of October 1, 2016. The Commissioner denied Thomas’s application on
November 29, 2017, and Thomas requested a hearing. On July 11, 2019,
Administrative Law Judge Hilton R. Miller (“the ALJ”) held a hearing on
After the hearing, the ALJ determined that Thomas suffered from several
“severe impairments,” including: “psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, right shoulder
arthroscopy, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spines, obesity,
and major depressive disorder.” A.R. 120. The ALJ further determined that
Thomas retained the “residual functional capacity” (RFC) to perform light work
with several restrictions.1 A.R. 123. He concluded that Thomas could not perform
her former work as a child monitor or salesperson, but could work as an entry
clerk, page and cotton classer aide and was therefore not disabled. Id. The Appeals
Council declined Thomas’s request for review, and this appeal followed.
“In reviewing a final decision of the Commissioner, a district court must
determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial
See A.R. 123-24 for the ALJ’s complete description of restrictions he found.
evidence supports the decision.” Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 384 (2d Cir.
2004); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “[S]ubstantial evidence ... means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see also Selian v. Astrue, 708
F.3d 409, 417 (2d Cir. 2013).
As of March 27, 2017, the treating physician’s medical opinion is no longer
presumptively given controlling weight. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520c(a). Rather, the
persuasiveness of each medical source is evaluated according to several factors,
including supportability, consistency, relationship with the claimant and
specialization, among others. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520c(c). Supportability and
consistency are the most important factors. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520c(a). In his or
her finding, the ALJ must articulate his or her consideration of these factors,
including the persuasiveness of each source. Id.
Here, the ALJ erred by failing to properly consider the above factors and by
substituting his own lay opinion for those of medical sources. In doing so, he made
a finding that was inconsistent with and unsupported by medical evidence. See
Hilsdorf v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 724 F. Supp. 2d 330, 347 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) (stating
that an ALJ who makes an RFC determination that is unsupported by substantial
evidence has improperly substituted his own opinion for that of a physician); see
also Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F. 3d 75, 81 (2d Cir. 1998) (holding that an ALJ may
not substitute his or her judgment for a competent medical opinion).
Specifically, the ALJ did not provide substantial evidence as to why he
found the opinions of Dr. Quarles and Dr. Singer to be unpersuasive. See A.R. 12829. Had the ALJ found these opinions persuasive, the ALJ would not have been
able to make the RFC finding that he did. With regard to Dr. Quarles’s opinion that
Thomas had severe limitations in completing complex tasks due to her emotional
and physical limitations, the ALJ stated that this opinion conflicted with Thomas’s
self-reported activities of daily living. A.R. 129.
Thomas completed a function report in 2017 to report these activities. In the
report, Thomas indicated that she cares for her teenage children by making sure
they eat and overseeing them going off to school. A.R. 390. However, she also
indicated that her sister helps her with this, and that she requires assistance most
days with putting on her socks and shoes and that she cannot stand for the duration
of a shower. Id. It is not clear how these self-reported daily activities conflict with
Dr. Quarles’s opinion above, and if anything, the function report appears to support
Dr. Quarles’s finding. See A.R. 390-95. The ALJ failed to provide substantial
evidence for finding Dr. Quarles’s opinion unpersuasive. A cursory reference to
inconsistency does not meet the burden required by the regulation for disregarding
a medical opinion, particularly when an examination of the record does not support
a finding of inconsistency. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520c(a).
The ALJ again erred by applying the same improper reasoning in finding
that Dr. Singer’s opinion was unpersuasive. A.R. 129. Dr. Singer opined that
Thomas had an extreme limitation in her ability to work a full day, as well as
numerous other marked limitations due to her mental impairments that would
prohibit her from being able to perform the jobs for which the ALJ found RFC. See
A.R. 1135-37. The ALJ decided that Dr. Singer’s opinion conflicted with
Thomas’s 2017 function report, as well as with the findings in 2016 and 2017
psychiatric consultative examinations and 2017 treatment notes. Regarding the
function report, the ALJ’s finding was error for the same reasons mentioned above.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520c(a).
The psychiatric examinations that the ALJ cites refer to Dr. Quarles’s 2016
opinion that Thomas was depressed and had bipolar disorder, as well as a 2017
examination showing “coherent and relevant speech, normal psychomotor activity,
and good remote memory functions” and 2017 treatment notes stating that Thomas
was able to follow three step commands and to register and recall three objects
given to her. A.R. 127. It is unclear how Dr. Quarles 2016 opinion is at all in
conflict with Dr. Singer’s assessment. Also, the ALJ does nothing to explain why
he favored any conflicting medical opinion in the 2017 examination or treatment
notes over that of Dr. Singer. Further, Dr. Singer was a treating provider with
access to the Thomas’s historical treatment records, which weighs toward favoring
his opinion under the factors enumerated in the regulation. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520c(c)(3). The ALJ did not support with substantial evidence his conclusion
that the opinions of Dr. Singer and Dr. Quarles were unpersuasive and did not
explain why his RFC assessment conflicts with their opinions. See Hilsdorf at 347.
This was error.
Thomas’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED and the
Commissioner’s DENIED. This case is REMANDED for further proceedings
consistent with this Order.
_/S/ Frederic Block___________
Senior United States District Judge
Brooklyn, New York
October 6, 2021
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