Stemple v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration
Memorandum Opinion and Order that the Commissioner's final decision is REVERSED and REMANDED. Magistrate Judge David A. Ruiz on 9/7/2021. (G,CA)
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upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 100-166). Plaintiff participated in the hearing on November 7, 2018, was
represented by counsel, and testified. (Tr. 46-64). A vocational expert (“VE”) also participated
and testified. Id. On January 9, 2019, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 33). On
December 30, 2019, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request to review the ALJ’s decision,
and the ALJ’s decision became the Commissioner’s final decision. (Tr. 5-15). Plaintiff’s
complaint challenges the Commissioner’s final decision. (R. 1). The parties have completed
briefing in this case. (R. 11 & 13).
Plaintiff asserts the ALJ erred at Step Four of the sequential evaluation. (R. 11, PageID#
A. Relevant Medical Evidence1
1. Treatment Records
On July 1, 2016, Plaintiff was seen at an urgent care center by Steven W. Smith, M.D., after
injuring her hip during a slip and fall. (Tr. 439). On examination, Plaintiff had normal
musculoskeletal range of motion, no sensory deficits, and tenderness in her lower back. (Tr.
440). A week later, physical examination revealed an antalgic gait. (Tr. 320). X-rays showed
bruising of the pelvis but no fracture. Id.
On September 23, 2016, Plaintiff saw Ibrahima Goudiaby, D.O., for right hip pain. (Tr.
316-317). Plaintiff was diagnosed with chronic right hip pain and prescribed Percocet. Id.
The recitation of the evidence is not intended to be exhaustive. As Plaintiff’s argument
revolves around the weight ascribed to the opinion of one of her physicians, the court includes
other evidence primarily for context.
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An MRI, on September 26, 2016, revealed degeneration and tearing of the anterior right
acetabular labrum. (Tr. 346). Plaintiff had x-rays on October 3, 2016, with findings that indicated
her right hip soft tissue was “grossly unremarkable.” (Tr. 329).
On October 28, 2016, musculoskeletal examination revealed full range of motion (ROM)
with some posterior lateral hip pain on maximal flexion. (Tr. 333). She had mild pain on hip
impingement testing. Id. Her gait and station were abnormal. Id.
On October 31, 2016, Plaintiff underwent an MRI of her lumbar spine revealing mild to
moderate neural foraminal stenosis at L3-L4 and L4-L5, and moderate to severe stenosis at L5S1. (Tr. 340).
On November 1, 2016, Plaintiff saw orthopedic spine surgeon Jason Eubanks, M.D. (Tr.
356). On physical examination, Plaintiff had no pain with ROM of the hips bilaterally, 5 of 5
strength in her legs, negative straight leg raise, and no clonus or hyperreflexia. Id. He opined that
Plaintiff did not need surgical intervention from a spine standpoint. Id.
On November 15, 2021, Plaintiff saw Salim Hayek, M.D., complaining of low back and leg
pain. (Tr. 394-398). On examination, Plaintiff had a normal musculoskeletal and neurological
examination, as well as normal motor strength, reflexes, and sensation. (Tr. 396). She
recommended conservative treatment consisting of lumbar epidural steroid injections, home
exercises, and aqua therapy. (Tr. 397). She also was prescribed Tramadol. Id.
On January 15, 2018, Plaintiff saw Dr. Hayek for right buttock pain. (Tr. 546). She reported
right-sided lower extremity radiculopathy in L4 distribution which terminated at the knee. Id.
Pain was worse with standing and ambulation, and described as intermittent burning, grinding,
and throbbing. Id. Plaintiff denied any significant leg weakness. Id.
On September 18, 2018, Plaintiff was seen by pain specialist Adam J. Hedaya, M.D. (Tr.
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418). Her back pain was described as severe and worsening (8 to 10 on a ten-point scale). (Tr.
419). On physical examination, Plaintiff had severe tenderness to palpation over the lumbar
sacral spine, positive facet loading bilaterally, considerable guarding and reduced range of
motion, normal motor strength and tone, and normal gait and station. (Tr. 419-420).
On October 2, 2018, and again on October 23, 2018, Plaintiff saw Dr. Hedaya for
complaints of back and hip pain. (Tr. 425-428, 429-423). Physical examination yielded similar
results. (Tr. 426-427, 430-431).
2. Medical Opinions Concerning Plaintiff’s Functional Limitations
On July 24, 2017, State Agency physician Teresita Cruz, M.D., completed a physical RFC
assessment restricting Plaintiff to light work. (Tr. 77-79). She identified Plaintiff’s symptoms as
pain and fatigue, but indicated that Plaintiff’s statements about the intensity, persistence, and
functionally limiting effects of her symptoms were not substantiated by the medical evidence
alone. (Tr. 77). Dr. Cruz explained that Plaintiff claimed she was unable to stand for longer than
five minutes despite medical exams showing she had adequate strength. Id. Dr. Cruz opined that
Plaintiff was restricted to lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling 20 pounds occasionally and 10
pounds frequently, and further limited Plaintiff to standing/walking for four hours and sitting for
six hours in an eight-hour workday. (Tr. 78). Dr. Cruz further opined that Plaintiff could
occasionally climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl, but could never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Id. Dr. Cruz found no manipulative, visual, or communicative
limitations existed, but did restrict Plaintiff from any exposure to hazards. (Tr. 79).
On September 20, 2017, State Agency medical consultant William Bolz, M.D., completed a
physical RFC assessment echoing Dr. Cruz’s above findings. (Tr. 92-95).
On October 26, 2018, Dr. Hedaya completed a check-box style Physical Medical Source
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Statement, indicating he had treated Plaintiff from September 18, 2018 to the present. (Tr. 433436). He diagnosed Plaintiff with “spondylosis, spinal stenosis, post-laminectomy, and
meralgia.” (Tr. 433). He described Plaintiff’s symptoms as low back pain radiating into hips, hip
pain, and difficulty sleeping. Id. Plaintiff’s pain was described as flaring up “throughout the day,
often at night.” Id. When asked to identify clinical and objective findings supporting his opinion,
Dr. Hedaya wrote: “Please see office notes and imaging report.” Id. Dr. Hedaya reported
psychological symptoms related to Plaintiff’s pain included depression and anxiety. (Tr. 434).
He opined Plaintiff could walk one-quarter of a block without rest or severe pain, sit for 30-45
minutes at a time, and stand for 5-10 minutes at a time. Id. Dr. Hedaya further opined that
Plaintiff is capable of sitting for a total of two hours in an eight-hour workday and
standing/walking for a total of two hours total in an eight-hour workday. Id. Plaintiff would also
need a sit/stand at-will option. Id. Dr. Hedaya opined that Plaintiff would need three to four
unscheduled breaks lasting ten to fifteen minutes throughout the workday due to muscle
weakness, chronic fatigue, pain and adverse effects of medication. Id. Plaintiff did not need to
elevate her legs. (Tr. 435). Dr. Hedaya reported that the plaintiff requires a cane to ambulate due
to imbalance, insecurity, and weakness. Id. Plaintiff could rarely lift ten pounds, stoop, or climb
stairs, and never twist, crouch/squat, or climb ladders. Id. Dr. Hedaya also checked a box
indicating Plaintiff had significant limitations with reaching, handling, and/or fingering. Id.
Finally, Dr. Hedaya opined that Plaintiff would be off task 25% or more of the workday and was
incapable of even low stress work. (Tr. 436).
III. Disability Standard
A claimant is entitled to receive benefits under the Social Security Act when she establishes
disability within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505 & 416.905; Kirk v. Sec’y of
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Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524 (6th Cir. 1981). A claimant is considered disabled when
she cannot perform “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 12 months.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1505(a) and 416.905(a); 404.1509 and 416.909(a).
The Commissioner determines whether a claimant is disabled by way of a five-stage
process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990). First,
the claimant must demonstrate that she is not currently engaged in “substantial gainful activity”
at the time she seeks disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b) and 416.920(b). Second, the
claimant must show that she suffers from a medically determinable “severe impairment” or
combination of impairments in order to warrant a finding of disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c)
and 416.920(c). A “severe impairment” is one that “significantly limits ... physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities.” Abbott, 905 F.2d at 923. Third, if the claimant is not
performing substantial gainful activity, has a severe impairment (or combination of impairments)
that is expected to last for at least twelve months, and the impairment(s) meets a listed
impairment, the claimant is presumed to be disabled regardless of age, education or work
experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d) and 416.920(d). Fourth, if the claimant’s impairment(s)
does not prevent her from doing past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e)-(f) and 416.920(e)-(f). For the fifth and final step, even if the claimant’s
impairment(s) does prevent her from doing past relevant work, if other work exists in the
national economy that the claimant can perform, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(g) and 416.920(g), 404.1560(c).
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IV. Summary of the ALJ’s Decision
The ALJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:
The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security
Act through December 31, 2018.
The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 29,
2016, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
The claimant has the following severe impairments: post laminectomy
syndrome with mild to moderate L3-4 right neural foraminal stenosis and
mild left neuroforaminal stenosis, mild to moderate bilateral neural
foraminal stenosis at L4-5, decompressive right laminectomy changes at
L5-S1, and severe right and moderate to severe left neural foraminal
stenosis, and L3-L4 radiculopathy; degeneration and tearing of the anterior
right acetabular labrum; meralgia paresthetica; and diabetes (20 CFR
The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR
404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that
the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary
work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except: She can occasionally
climb ramps and stairs. She can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds.
She can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. She can
never be exposed to unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, or
operate a motor vehicle. She requires a cane to ambulate.
The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a legal
secretary. This work does not require the performance of work-related
activities precluded by the claimant’s residual functional capacity (20 CFR
The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, from June 29, 2016, through the date of this decision (20
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V. Law and Analysis
A. Standard of Review
Judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision is limited to determining whether it is
supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards. Ealy v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 594 F.3d 504, 512 (6th Cir. 2010). Review must be based on the record as a
whole. Heston v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 535 (6th Cir. 2001). The court may look
into any evidence in the record to determine if the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial
evidence, regardless of whether it has actually been cited by the ALJ. (Id.) However, the court
does not review the evidence de novo, make credibility determinations, or weigh the evidence.
Brainard v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989).
The Commissioner’s conclusions must be affirmed absent a determination that the ALJ
failed to apply the correct legal standards or made findings of fact unsupported by substantial
evidence in the record. White v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 572 F.3d 272, 281 (6th Cir. 2009).
Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
Brainard, 889 F.2d at 681. A decision supported by substantial evidence will not be overturned
even though substantial evidence supports the opposite conclusion. Ealy, 594 F.3d at 512.
B. Plaintiff’s Assignment of Error
In her sole assignment of error, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred at Step Four of the
sequential evaluation. (R. 11, PageID# 641-645). Specifically, Plaintiff’s argument is founded
upon her belief that the ALJ did not accord appropriate weight to the opinion of Dr. Hedaya,
whom she describes as her treating pain management specialist. Id. at PageID# 644.
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1. Viability of the Treating Physician Rule
The Commissioner points out that the “treating physician rule” was eliminated by a change
in social security regulations that applies to all claims filed after March 27, 2017.2 (R. 13,
PageID# 654). Indeed, the regulations no longer use the term “treating source,” instead utilizing
the phrase “your medical source(s).” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520c. Moreover, the change is not merely
semantic, as the regulation explicitly states that “[w]e will not defer or give any specific
evidentiary weight, including controlling weight, to any medical opinion(s) … including those
from your medical sources.” Id. As the SSA has explained, “[c]ourts reviewing claims under [the
old] rules … focused more on whether we sufficiently articulated the weight we gave treating
source opinions, rather than on whether substantial evidence supports our final decision….
[T]hese courts, in reviewing final agency decisions, are reweighing evidence instead of applying
the substantial evidence standard of review, which is intended to be highly deferential standard
to us.” Revisions to Rules Regarding the Evaluation of Medical Evidence, 82 FR 5844-01, 2017
WL 168819 (Jan. 18, 2017).
Plaintiff does not contest that the SSA amended the regulations in an attempt to eliminate
the treating physician rule. (R. 11, PageID# 643). Nevertheless, Plaintiff argues, in a lengthy
footnote, that the treating physician rule survives because it was a judicially created rule that the
SSA cannot override. Id. Because the treating physician rule predates the Commissioner’s
regulations, Plaintiff argues that it is “viable separate from the Commissioner’s regulatory
authority … and stare decisis should apply.” Id. The question is whether the amended
regulations invalidate the treating physician rule that has been the standard governing the
Plaintiff filed her disability claim in April of 2017, and therefore, it is indisputable that the
revised regulations apply to Plaintiff’s claim.
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consideration of treating source opinions in the Sixth Circuit.
The United States Supreme Court has explained as follows:
“The power of an administrative agency to administer a congressionally created
… program necessarily requires the formulation of policy and the making of rules
to fill any gap left, implicitly or explicitly, by Congress.” Morton v. Ruiz, 415
U.S. 199, 231 (1974). If Congress has explicitly left a gap for the agency to fill,
there is an express delegation of authority to the agency to elucidate a specific
provision of the statute by regulation. Such legislative regulations are given
controlling weight unless they are arbitrary, capricious, or manifestly contrary to
the statute. Sometimes the legislative delegation to an agency on a particular
question is implicit rather than explicit. In such a case, a court may not substitute
its own construction of a statutory provision for a reasonable interpretation made
by the administrator of an agency.
Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. NRDC, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 843-844 (1984); see also Barnhart v. Walton,
535 U.S. 212, 222 (2002) (applying Chevron deference to the SSA’s interpretation of the
durational requirement for disability).
Notably, Plaintiff has not argued that the revision to the regulations was arbitrary or
capricious. (R. 11). Rather, Plaintiff contends that because the judicially created treating
physician rule predates the SSA’s codification of said rule, the prior judicial construction
overrides the SSA’s interpretation. A nearly identical argument was rejected by a district court of
the Eastern District of California:
It is a corollary of the Chevron doctrine that, because agencies and not judges are
experts in the field, a prior judicial construction of a statute will supersede an
agency’s contrary interpretation only in very narrow circumstances. Chevron, 467
U.S. at 865. The Supreme Court has held that “prior judicial construction of a
statute trumps an agency construction otherwise entitled to Chevron deference
only if the prior court decision holds that its construction follows from the
unambiguous terms of the statute and thus leaves no room for agency discretion.”
Nat'l Cable & Telecommunications Ass’n v. Brand X Internet Servs., 545 U.S.
967, 982 (2005).
The Ninth Circuit's prior construction of the Social Security Act, recognizing the
TPR [treating physician rule], was not derived from the unambiguous terms of the
statute. Indeed, there is no such unambiguous statutory language—the statute does
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not address the weight to be given to any type of medical opinion evidence. The
TPR evolved with the Court’s own interpretation of the overarching statutory
provision that courts can only overturn a decision if it is unsupported by
After several other circuits adopted their own versions of the TPR as a rule for
weighing medical evidence, the Ninth Circuit followed suit. In 1983, our Circuit
agreed with the Fifth, Sixth and Second Circuits’ practice of giving greater weight
to the opinions of treating physicians because of their “greater opportunity to
observe and know that patient as an individual.” Murray v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 499,
502 (9th Cir. 1983). As the Supreme Court succinctly explained, “[t]he treating
physician rule... was originally developed by Courts of Appeals as a means to
control disability determinations by administrative law judges under the Social
Security Act.” Black & Decker Disability Plan v. Nord, 538 U.S. 822, 829 (2003).
“In 1991, the Commissioner of Social Security adopted regulations approving and
formalizing use of the rule in the Social Security disability program.” Id. In
promulgating the SSA rules of 1991, the agency noted that “[n]one of the circuit
courts of appeals has held that its treating physician rule is required by the Act or
Constitution.” Final Rules, Standards for Consultative Examinations and Existing
Medical Evidence, 56 FR 36932-01 (1991). The 2017 regulations at issue here
changed the Agency’s approach. The Agency is free to make such changes,
despite extant caselaw, where the judicial interpretations were not themselves
compelled by the statutory language. See Brand X, supra, 545 U.S. at 982.
The TPR was likewise adopted by the Ninth Circuit based on the persuasive
authority of other Circuit Courts of Appeals and not on any mandatory language
of the statute that foreclosed agency interpretation. Accordingly, the undersigned
concludes that the new regulations regarding the evaluation of medical opinion
evidence displace the Ninth Circuit’s prior precedents implementing the TPR.
Few courts have yet addressed the question whether the 2017 regulations displace
the TPR, but Brand X and Lambert provide a clear path. “Only a judicial
precedent holding that the statute unambiguously forecloses the agency’s
interpretation, and therefore contains no gap for the agency to fill, displaces a
conflicting agency construction.” Brand X, 545 U.S. at 982-983. None of the
Ninth Circuit’s TPR cases constitute such a precedent. Accordingly, the agency
was free to displace the judicially created rule by regulation. See Lambert, 980
F.3d at 1268, 1275.
Because the TPR is inconsistent with the new regulation, the court concludes that
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the 2017 regulations effectively displace or override it.
Agans v. Saul, No. 2:20-cv-00508, 2021 WL 1388610 at *6–7, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71471
(E.D. Cal. Apr. 13, 2021).
Plaintiff cites no authority suggesting that the Sixth Circuit’s adoption of the treating
physician rule was rooted in a finding that such a rule was compelled by the unambiguous terms
of a statute. In addition, similar arguments now raised by Plaintiff have been roundly rejected by
courts nationwide. See, e.g., Douglas v. Saul, 4:20-cv-822, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101588 (N.D.
Ala. May 28, 2021) (applying the new regulations and finding that Plaintiff failed to cite any
“case in which the Eleventh Circuit has held that the Social Security Act mandated the treating
physician rule.”); Olson v. Saul, No. 20-cv-672, 2021 WL 1783136, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
85555 (W.D. Wisc. May 5, 2021) (finding SSA’s new regulation controlling and rejecting the
argument that SSA did not have the authority to repeal it); Carr v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No.
1:20-cv-217, 2021 WL 1721692, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83505 (E.D. Calif. Apr. 30, 2021)
(finding “the treating-physician rule must yield to the intervening regulation” under the authority
of Brand X); Dany Z. v. Saul, No. 2:19-cv-217, 2021 WL 1232641, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
65805 (D. Vt. Mar. 31, 2021) (finding the Second Circuit did not find that “the statute itself was
unambiguous in requiring the treating physician rule,” and applying the revised regulations);
Harry B. v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 3:20-cv-227, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60509 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 30,
2021) (rejecting argument that the SSA cannot change pre-existing case law and applying the
new regulations); but see Bevis v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., No. 6:20-cv-579, 2021 WL
3418815 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 5, 2021) (gathering case law and concluding “Given the absence of any
binding or persuasive guidance from the Court of Appeals, the Court is not willing to go as far as
the Commissioner suggests and find that cases applying the ‘good cause’ standard are no longer
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The court, however, finds that this issue need not be resolved here and it need not determine
the continuing application of prior precedent related to the treating physician rule. Because even
when considering the ALJ’s decision under the new regulations, without the treating physician
rule, it is apparent that the ALJ erred with respect to his consideration of Dr. Hedaya’s opinion.
2. Weight Ascribed to the Opinion of Dr. Hedaya
Plaintiff asserts the ALJ erred by ascribing more weight to the opinions of the State Agency
physicians than her treating pain management specialist Dr. Hedaya. (R. 11, PageID# 644-645).
As stated above, the regulations no longer ascribe any special significance to a claimant’s
treating medical sources, explicitly stating that “[w]e will not defer or give any specific
evidentiary weight, including controlling weight, to any medical opinion(s) … including those
from your medical sources.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520c. While a source’s length of treatment,
frequency of examinations, and specialization are enumerated factors for an ALJ’s consideration
under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520c(c)(3)-(5), an ALJ is “not required to, explain how we considered
the factors in paragraphs (c)(3) through (c)(5) of this section … when we articulate how we
consider medical opinions and prior administrative medical findings in your case record.” 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520c(b)(2). Therefore, Plaintiff has not identified any basis for remand simply by
pointing out that Dr. Hedaya was a treating source specializing in pain management or that the
ALJ did not expressly discuss these factors.
However, the new regulations are not devoid of any requirements relating to an ALJ’s duty
to explain the weight assigned to medical opinions. As conceded by the Commissioner in his
brief, an “ALJ will explain how he or she considered the factors of supportability and
consistency, which are the two most important factors in determining the persuasiveness of a
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medical source’s medical opinion or a prior administrative medical finding.” (R. 13, PageID#
658; citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520c(b)(2).3 After setting forth the contents of Dr. Hedaya’s
opinion rendered on October 26, 2018, the ALJ explained the weight he was assigning to the
opinion as follows:
The undersigned finds this opinion to be somewhat persuasive. The sedentary
exertional level is supported by the preponderance of the evidence. However, the
additional breaks, being off-task, missing work, and the non-exertional limitations
are unpersuasive because they are not supported by the evidence of record. The
claimant has not sought, or received, mental health treatment and she does not
take any mental health medications. The claimant is able to perform self-care,
drive, shop, spend time with others, watch television, reads, takes her
medications, and perform some household duties.
(Tr. 29-30) (emphasis added).
Plaintiff asserts that taking the ALJ’s opinion at face value, the ALJ found the opinion
persuasive because it is consistent with a sedentary level of exertion. (R. 11, PageID# 645).
However, as Plaintiff’s brief accurately points out, “Dr. Hedaya’s opinion includes limitations
for a less than sedentary residual functional capacity, as he states that Plaintiff is capable of
standing and sitting for only two hours total in and eight-hour workday.” Id.
Indeed, “[s]edentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and
occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Although a
sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing
is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are
“Most important factors. The factors of supportability (paragraph (c)(1) of this section) and
consistency (paragraph (c)(2) of this section) are the most important factors we consider when
we determine how persuasive we find a medical source’s medical opinions or prior
administrative medical findings to be. Therefore, we will explain how we considered the
supportability and consistency factors for a medical source’s medical opinions or prior
administrative medical findings in your determination or decision.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520c(b)(2).
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required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a).
Furthermore, “ ‘[o]ccasionally’ means occurring from very little up to one-third of the time.
Since being on one’s feet is required ‘occasionally’ at the sedentary level of exertion, periods of
standing or walking should generally total no more than about 2 hours of an 8-hour workday, and
sitting should generally total approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour workday.” Social Security
Ruling (SSR) 83-10, 1983 SSR LEXIS 30, at *13, 1983 WL 31251 *5-6 (1983). Therefore, Dr.
Hedaya’s opinion that Plaintiff could sit for a total of two hours and stand/walk for a total of two
hours is clearly inconsistent with an ability to perform sedentary work.
Thus, it is patently unclear what portion of the opinion the ALJ found “somewhat
persuasive.” A reasonable interpretation of the ALJ’s statement is that he misconstrued Dr.
Hedaya’s opinion as being consistent with the physical demands of sedentary. This interpretation
is buttressed by a statement later in the decision that inaccurately states: “No treating source
refers to the claimant as having incapacitating or debilitating symptoms that would prevent her
from returning to her past relevant work, or other work at a reduced level of exertion such as in
the performance of sedentary work….” (Tr. 30). The ALJ’s observation, however, is inaccurate,
as Dr. Hedaya’s opinion would clearly preclude sedentary work.
The decision is problematic because this reviewing court cannot discern what the ALJ
intended. As a rule, the ALJ must build an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and
the ALJ’s conclusion. Fleischer v. Astrue, 774 F. Supp. 2d 875, 877 (N.D. Ohio 2011); see also
Wilson v. Comm. of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544-546 (6th Cir. 2004). “Where the ALJ’s decision
lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, the case
must be remanded.” Castello v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 5:09 CV 2569, 2011 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 13659, 2011 WL 610590, at *2 (N.D. Ohio Jan 10, 2011) (quoting Giles v. Astrue, 483
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F.3d 483, 486 (7th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation omitted); Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 307 (7th
Cir. 1995) (the ALJ’s analysis must allow reviewing court to trace the path of her reasoning)
(Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005)).
If the ALJ intended to reject Dr. Hedaya’s opinion that Plaintiff could only sit for a total of
two hours during a workday, the ALJ did not do so in a manner that is clear to this court.
Moreover, while the ALJ was no longer required to give “good reasons” for rejecting such an
opinion per the old requirements of the treating physician rule, the decision is not compliant with
the new regulations as it does not discuss the work-preclusive sitting and standing limitations in
terms of their supportability and consistency. Therefore, the court finds a remand is necessary to
address the shortcomings of the ALJ’s decision as identified in this opinion.
For the foregoing reasons, the Commissioner’s final decision is REVERSED and
REMANDED for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ David A. Ruiz
David A. Ruiz
United States Magistrate Judge
Date: September 7, 2021
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