Mathias v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration
Memorandum Opinion and Order: The decision of the Administrative Law Judge is reversed; plaintiff's case is remanded for an evaluation of the opinion of plaintiff's treating physician in accordance with the treating physician rule (Related document 1 ). Signed by Magistrate Judge George J. Limbert on 8/31/17. (S,AA)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
NANCY A. BERRYHILL1,
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL )
CASE NO. 5:16CV2082
GEORGE J. LIMBERT
Plaintiff Julie Mathias (“Plaintiff”) requests judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security Administration (“Defendant”) denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). ECF Dkt. #1. In her brief on the merits, filed on
December 11, 2016, Plaintiff asserts that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) failed to state a
valid reason for rejecting the opinion of her treating physician. ECF Dkt. #15 at 11-20.
Defendant filed a response brief on February 17, 2017. ECF Dkt. #18. On March 1, 2017,
Plaintiff filed a reply brief. ECF Dkt. #19.
For the following reasons, the Court REVERSES the ALJ’s decision and REMANDS
Plaintiff’s case for an evaluation of the opinion of Plaintiff’s treating physician in accordance
with the treating physician rule.
Plaintiff filed her application for SSI in October 2013. ECF Dkt. #12 (“Tr.”) at 172.2 In
her application, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on February 18, 2012. Id. The claim was
denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. at 112-19. Following the denial, Plaintiff
On January 23, 2017, Nancy A. Berryhill became the acting Commissioner of Social Security,
replacing Carolyn W. Colvin.
All citations to the Transcript refer to the page numbers assigned when the Transcript was filed as
a .PDF, rather that the page numbers assigned by the CM/ECF system. When the Transcript was filed the
.PDF included an index, with the indexed pages differentiated from the numerical pages. Accordingly, the
page number assigned in the .PDF mirrors the page number printed on each page of the Transcript, rather than
the page number assigned when the Transcript was filed in the CM/ECF system.
requested a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on August 17, 2015. Id. at 35. On
September 1, 2015, the ALJ denied Plaintiff’s application for SSI. Id. at 16. Subsequently, the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision. Id. at 1.
Accordingly, the decision issued by the ALJ on September 1, 2015, stands as the final decision.
On August 19, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant suit seeking review of the ALJ’s decision.
ECF Dkt. #1. Plaintiff filed a brief on the merits on December 11, 2016. ECF Dkt. #15.
Defendant filed a response brief on February 17, 2017. ECF Dkt. #18. On March 1, 2017,
Plaintiff filed a reply brief. ECF Dkt. #19.
SUMMARY OF RELEVANT PORTIONS OF THE ALJ’S DECISION
In the decision issued on September 1, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 21, 2013, the date of her application for
SSI. Tr. at 21. Continuing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: multiple sclerosis (“MS”); cervical degenerative disc disease; contraction of the
visual field in better eye; depression; post-traumatic stress disorder; panic disorder; and alcohol
abuse. Id. The ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id.
After consideration of the record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), except
she: could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; must avoid workplace hazards, such as
unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery; could not perform commercial driving;
must avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes of hot and cold; could not work with
vibrating hand tools; was limited to simple, routine tasks that did not involve arbitration,
negotiation, confrontation, directing the work of others, or being responsible for the safety of
others; could not perform rate work or assembly line work; and could use frequent depth
perception. Tr. at 23-24.
When discussing her RFC, the ALJ addressed the opinion of Plaintiff’s treating
physician, Timothy Carrabine, M.D. See Tr. at 27-28. Dr. Carrabine limited Plaintiff to: lifting
less than five pounds for one-third of the day; and standing/walking for less than one hour total
during the day, and less than twenty minutes at a time. Id. at 27. Continuing, the ALJ stated that
Dr. Carrabine indicated that Plaintiff would need to take an unscheduled break every hour, but
did not need to use a cane. Id. The ALJ indicated that Dr. Carrabine limited Plaintiff to
performing manipulations and reaching less than ten percent of the day. Additionally, the ALJ
stated that Dr. Carradine opined that Plaintiff would be off task more then twenty-five percent of
the day and would miss more than four days of work per month. Id.
The ALJ then indicated that little weight was afforded to Dr. Carrabine’s opinion as to
Plaintiff’s physical limitations as the opinion was not supported by the conservative treatment, a
lack of multiple hospitalizations, the MRI results, and Plaintiff’s activities of daily living. Tr. at
27. Continuing, the ALJ stated that Plaintiff’s activities of daily living did not support her
allegations regarding her MS, as she had: lived with her eighty-one -year-old grandmother since
2013 and provided “a lot of care for her grandmother”; went to the grocery store; washed the
laundry; talked with her friends on the phone; read and watched television; prepared simple
meals; performed light housework; shopped for personal items; and socialized with friends a few
times a week. Id. Additionally, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff did not drive, but this was because
her license had lapsed rather than on the order of any of her doctors. Id.
The ALJ also addressed the form Dr. Carrabine completed regarding Plaintiff’s mental
limitations. Tr. at 28. According to the ALJ, Dr. Carrabine opined that Plaintiff was essentially
unable to perform in many areas, including: remembering work procedures; understanding
detailed instructions; maintaining attention and concentration; performing activities within a
schedule; working in coordination or in proximity to others; accepting instructions and criticism
from supervisors; responding appropriately to changes; traveling to unfamiliar places; and
setting realistic goals. Id. The ALJ stated that Dr. Carrabine opined that Plaintiff would miss
work more than four days a month, would need four unscheduled breaks a day, and would be off
task twenty percent of the day. Id. After describing Dr. Carrabine’s opinion, the ALJ stated that
the opinion was being afforded no weight since Dr. Carrabine was not a mental health
professional and did not treat Plaintiff’s mental health problems. Id. Continuing, the ALJ stated
that while Dr. Carrabine may have had some insight on Plaintiff’s cognitive deficits due to her
MS, his extreme opinion was inconsistent with her conservative treatment, activities of daily
living, and the medical evidence of record. Id. The ALJ concluded his discussion of Dr.
Carrabine’s opinion regarding Plaintiff’s mental limitations by stating, “[a]n individual with such
drastic mental limits would presumably not be able to care for an 81-year-old woman.” Id.
Next, the ALJ indicated that Plaintiff had no past relevant work, was a younger
individual on the date her application for SSI was filed, had at least a high school education, and
was able to communicate in English. Tr. at 29. The ALJ stated that the transferability of job
skills was not an issue because Plaintiff’s past relevant work was unskilled. Id. Considering
Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that jobs existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. Id. After making the
above finding, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, since October 21, 2013, the date her application for SSI was filed. Id. at 30.
STEPS TO EVALUATE ENTITLEMENT TO SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS
An ALJ must proceed through the required sequential steps for evaluating entitlement to
social security benefits. These steps are:
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) and 416.920(b) (1992));
An individual who does not have a “severe impairment” will not be found
to be “disabled” (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c) (1992));
If an individual is not working and is suffering from a severe impairment
which meets the duration requirement, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509 and
416.909 (1992), and which meets or is equivalent to a listed impairment in
20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, a finding of disabled will be made
without consideration of vocational factors (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d) and
If an individual is capable of performing the kind of work he or she has
done in the past, a finding of “not disabled” must be made (20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e) and 416.920(e) (1992));
If an individual’s impairment is so severe as to preclude the performance
of the kind of work he or she has done in the past, 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) and 416.920(f) (1992)).
Hogg v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 328, 332 (6th Cir. 1992). The claimant has the burden to go forward
with the evidence in the first four steps and the Commissioner has the burden in the fifth step.
Moon v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175, 1181 (6th Cir. 1990).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under the Social Security Act, the ALJ weighs the evidence, resolves any conflicts, and
makes a determination of disability. This Court’s review of such a determination is limited in
scope by §205 of the Act, which states that the “findings of the Commissioner of Social Security
as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
Therefore, this Court’s scope of review is limited to determining whether substantial evidence
supports the findings of the Commissioner and whether the Commissioner applied the correct
legal standards. Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 922 (6th Cir. 1990).
The substantial-evidence standard requires the Court to affirm the Commissioner’s
findings if they are supported by “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Cole v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)) (internal citation omitted). Substantial evidence is defined as
“more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance.” Rogers v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 486 F.3d 234 (6th Cir. 2007). Accordingly, when substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s
denial of benefits, that finding must be affirmed, even if a preponderance of the evidence exists
in the record upon which the ALJ could have found plaintiff disabled. The substantial evidence
standard creates a “‘zone of choice’ within which [an ALJ] can act without the fear of court
interference.” Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 773 (6th Cir. 2001). However, an ALJ’s failure to
follow agency rules and regulations “denotes a lack of substantial evidence, even where the
conclusion of the ALJ may be justified based upon the record.” Cole, supra (citing Blakely v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 407 (6th Cir. 2009)) (internal citations omitted).
Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to state valid reasons for rejecting the opinion of
Plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Carrabine. ECF Dkt. #15 at 11-20. An ALJ must give
controlling weight to the opinion of a treating source if the ALJ finds that the opinion is wellsupported by medically acceptable clinical and diagnostic techniques and not inconsistent with
the other substantial evidence in the record. Wilson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544
(6th Cir. 2004). If an ALJ decides to discount or reject a treating physician’s opinion, he or she
must provide “good reasons” for doing so. Social Security Rule (“SSR”) 96-2p. The ALJ must
provide reasons that are “sufficiently specific to make clear to any subsequent reviewers the
weight the adjudicator gave to the treating source’s medical opinion and the reasons for that
weight.” Id. This allows a claimant to understand how her case is determined, especially when
she knows that her treating physician has deemed her disabled and she may therefore “be
bewildered when told by an administrative bureaucracy that [s]he is not, unless some reason for
the agency’s decision is supplied.” Wilson, 378 F.3d at 544 (quoting Snell v. Apfel, 177 F.3d 128,
134 (2d Cir. 1999)). Further, it “ensures that the ALJ applies the treating physician rule and
permits meaningful appellate review of the ALJ’s application of the rule.” Id. If an ALJ fails to
explain why he or she rejected or discounted the opinions and how those reasons affected the
weight afforded to the opinions, this Court must find that substantial evidence is lacking, “even
where the conclusion of the ALJ may be justified based upon the record.” Rogers, 486 F.3d at
243 (citing Wilson, 378 F.3d at 544).
The Sixth Circuit has noted that, “while it is true that a lack of compatibility with other
record evidence is germane to the weight of a treating physician’s opinion, an ALJ cannot simply
invoke the criteria set forth in the regulations if doing so would not be ‘sufficiently specific’ to
meet the goals of the ‘good reason’ rule.” Friend v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 375 Fed.Appx. 543,
551 (6th Cir. 2010). The Sixth Circuit has held that an ALJ’s failure to identify the reasons for
discounting opinions, “and for explaining precisely how those reasons affected the weight” given
“denotes a lack of substantial evidence, even where the conclusion of the ALJ may be justified
based upon the record.” Parks v. Social Sec. Admin., 413 Fed.Appx. 856, 864 (6th Cir. 2011)
(quoting Rogers, 486 F.3d at 243 ). However, an ALJ need not discuss every piece of evidence
in the administrative record so long as he or she considers all of a claimant’s medically
determinable impairments and the opinion is supported by substantial evidence. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(2); see also Thacker v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 99 Fed.Appx. 661, 665 (6th Cir. 2004).
Substantial evidence can be “less than a preponderance,” but must be adequate for a reasonable
mind to accept the ALJ’s conclusion. Kyle v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847, 854 (6th Cir.
2010) (citation omitted).
Specifically, Plaintiff takes issue with the reasons the ALJ provided for assigning little
weight to Dr. Carrabine’s opinion, namely, that the opinion was not supported by the
conservative treatment, a lack of multiple hospitalizations, the MRI results, and Plaintiff’s
activities of daily living.3 ECF Dkt. #15 at 13. Plaintiff first asserts that her treatment was not
conservative, indicating that she was originally treated with Copaxone, a drug used to prevent
MS relapses, Baclofen, a muscle relaxer and antispastic agent, and Vicodin. Id. Continuing,
Plaintiff states that as time progressed, Dr. Carrabine also introduced Tecfidera, a “new disease
modifying therapy in the form of an oral antioxidant,” but cautioned that all the side effects of
the drug may not yet be known. Id. (citing Tr. at 312). Plaintiff asserts that this is not
conservative treatment, as Dr. Carrabine, a specialist in MS, adjusted Plaintiff’s medication over
time, prescribed new medications with potentially unknown side effects, and monitored the
effectiveness of said treatment. Id. at 13-14.
Next, Plaintiff asserts that an MRI taken in July 2013 revealed that foci of scattered flair
hyperintensity were present, including involvement of the corpus callosum, most of which were
parallel to white matter tracks. ECF Dkt. #15 at 14 (citing Tr. at 282). Plaintiff avers that these
findings were consistent with a clinical history of MS. Id. (citing Tr. at 282). Additionally,
Dr. Carrabine provided opinions as to Plaintiff’s physical and mental limitations. Tr. at 324, 362.
The chief concern for both parties is the ALJ’s treatment of Dr. Carrabine’s opinion regarding Plaintiff’s
physical limitations. See ECF Dkt. #15, ECF Dkt. #18. As such, the Court’s reference to Dr. Carrabine’s
opinion in this section of the instant Memorandum Opinion and Order involves only Dr. Carrabine’s opinion
as to Plaintiff’s physical limitations, unless otherwise noted.
Plaintiff states that a CT of Plaintiff’s brain revealed questionable four-millimeter white matter
hypodensity in her left frontal lobe that could be related to age-indeterminable ischemic changes
prior to her known history of MS. Id. (citing Tr. at 281). Plaintiff contends that the MRI
objectively demonstrated that she had MS and that the ALJ’s rejection of the Dr. Carrabine’s
opinion on this basis was without merit. Id.
Continuing, Plaintiff addresses the ALJ’s treatment of her activities of daily living,
namely: going to the grocery store, talking to friends on the phone, watching television,
preparing simple meals, performing light housework, and helping care for her grandmother.
ECF Dkt. #15 at 15. Plaintiff asserts that, despite the ALJ’s findings, a review of the record
shows that the activities of daily living cited by the ALJ when discounting Dr. Carrabine’s
opinion were not only minimal, but also caused Plaintiff to experience problems. For example,
Plaintiff indicates that she needed others to drive her to the store and help with laundry. Id.
Plaintiff states that the fact that she talked on the phone with friends is irrelevant to Dr.
Carrabine’s assessment. Id. Further, Plaintiff indicates that it is unclear how reading and
watching television undermined Dr. Carrabine’s assessment. Id.
Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that caring for her grandmother did not include much
activity, and thus the ALJ improperly stated that Plaintiff “does provide a lot of care for her
grandmother” when finding mild restrictions in her activities of daily living. ECF Dkt. #15 at
15. Plaintiff asserts that there is no evidence in the record establishing that the activities
involved in caring for her grandmother rose to significant levels, and indicates that she testified
that she tried to help her grandmother as much as she could. Id. at 16 (citing Tr. at 49).
Continuing, Plaintiff states that she testified that she did not cook for her grandmother and that
her grandmother drove her to the grocery store. Id. Plaintiff avers that these activities are the
extent to which Plaintiff cared for her grandmother. Id. Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that it has
been long held that minor activities of daily living are insufficient to establish the ability to
engage in substantial gainful activity. Id. (internal citations omitted).
Plaintiff also avers that the ALJ misstates her testimony. ECF Dkt. #15 at 17. As an
example, Plaintiff indicates that the ALJ noted that she testified that she was able to read and
watch television, despite her testimony that she did not read. Id. (citing Tr. at 26, 50). Further,
Plaintiff asserts that Dr. Carrabine’s medical source statement was supported by the treatment
notes and objective findings of record, stating that throughout the record the treatment notes
consistently identify Plaintiff’s problems associated with: reflex abnormality; diminished grip
strength bilaterally; increased motor tone in the lower extremities; ataxia bilaterally; slow gait
consistent with ataxia; and toe walking and tandem gait due to balance difficulties. Id. at 18
(citing Tr. at 310-11, 319, 328, 338, 358). Plaintiff contends that these findings are not benign,
but are instead clinically significant and severe. Id. Additionally, Plaintiff states that the fact
that her primary physician found her condition to be stable does not mean the condition was not
severe. Id. (citing Tr. at 321). Plaintiff contends that Dr. Carrabine’s records indicate ongoing,
severe, neurologic findings that supported his opinion regarding her limitations. Id. at 19. For
these reasons, Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erroneously rejected Dr. Carrabine’s opinion in
violation of the treating physician rule. Id.
Defendant argues that the ALJ reasonably assigned little weight to Dr. Carrabine’s
opinion. ECF Dkt. #18 at 10-13. Continuing, Defendant states that the ALJ provided “good
reasons” for discounting Dr. Carrabine’s opinion, namely that Plaintiff: received emergency
inpatient care for her MS on only one occasion during the relevant period; the sole
hospitalization was Plaintiff’s only documented occurrence of a MS relapse; and, other than the
single hospitalization, the treatment notes did not reflect the she had any other recurrence of a
MS attack during the relevant period. Id. at 11 (citing Tr. at 27, 263-64, 310, 321). Defendant
also states that the record does not support Plaintiff’s characterization of the prescription of
Tecfidera as risky or aggressive treatment. Id. at 12. Additionally, Defendant asserts that the
record documented a more aggressive treatment modality, and that hospital treatment notes from
Plaintiff’s single MS relapse occurrence reflect that she was placed on intravenous steroid
medication, resulting in rapid improvement. Id. Defendant notes that the intravenous steroid
treatment illustrates at least one method for aggressively treating acute exacerbation of Plaintiff’s
Next, Defendant avers that the ALJ also considered inconsistencies between Dr.
Carrabine’s opinion and the objective medical evidence in the record. ECF Dkt. #18 at 12.
Specifically, Defendant states that the ALJ relied on the fact that the MRI procedures performed
in July 2013 and December 2014 showed no enhancing or diffusion restricting lesions, despite
being consistent with a history of MS. Id. Defendant also notes that the ALJ found the state
agency opinion to be more consistent with the findings of record, and that Plaintiff’s primary
care physician observed that she had normal physical examinations with no neurological
abnormalities other than mild ataxia while walking. Id. (citing Tr. at 259-60, 321-22). Based on
these reasons, Defendant asserts that Dr. Carrabine’s assessment of significant work restrictions
was “far out of proportion to the foregoing diagnostic and examination findings,” and thus it was
reasonable for the ALJ to discount the opinion. Id. at 13 (citing Tr. at 324-26).
Finally, Defendant avers that the ALJ took Plaintiff’s activities of daily living into
account when determining the weight to assign Dr. Carrabine’s opinion. ECF Dkt. #18 at 13.
Defendant states that the ALJ observed that Plaintiff lived with and helped her eighty-one-yearold grandmother, and reported that she was able to perform some household chores, prepare
simple meals, wash laundry, and shop. Id. (citing Tr. at 212-213, 287). Based on these
assertions, Defendant contends that Plaintiff was more functional than Dr. Carrabine opined. Id.
Defendant also claims that, even should the Court find that Plaintiff’s activities of daily living
did not conflict with Dr. Carrabine’s opinion, any error in this regard was harmless as the ALJ
provided other valid reasons for discounting the opinion. Id.
The ALJ failed to state “good reasons” for rejecting the opinion of Dr. Carrabine,
Plaintiff’s treating physician. After describing the physical limitations contained in Dr.
Carrabine’s opinion, as stated above, the ALJ provided the following explanation as to why little
weight was afforded to the opinion:
[Dr. Carrabine’s opinion] is not supported by the conservative treatment, the one
hospitalization, the MRIs and [Plaintiff’s] activities of daily living. [Plaintiff’s]
activities of daily living are unsupportive of her allegations regarding her [MS].
[Plaintiff] has lived with her 81-year-old grandmother since 2013. She does
provide a lot of care for her grandmother. She goes to the grocery store. She does
the laundry. She talks with her friends on the phone. She reads and watches
television (testimony). She can prepare simple meals and light housework
(Exhibit B3E/4). While she does not drive (Exhibit B3E/5), this is because her
license has lapsed; no doctor has told her to stop driving (testimony). She goes
shopping for groceries and personal items (Exhibit B3E/5). She socializes with
friends a few times a week (Exhibit B3E/6).
Tr. at 27. The undersigned agrees with Defendant that Plaintiff’s treatment was fairly
conservative even if she was treated with Tecfidera, a drug for which the side effects may not
have been entirely known, as her treatment essentially consisted of a medication regime.
However, the ALJ’s reliance on a sole instance of hospitalization is questionable as there is no
further explanation provided in the decision as to why this fact conflicts with Dr. Carrabine’s
opinion. Additionally, MS is not necessarily the type of disease that would result in frequent
hospitalizations.4 The ALJ did not provide an explanation as to how the MRI results
contradicted Dr. Carrabine’s opinion. The Court recognizes that the ALJ mentions the MRI
results when discussing Plaintiff’s RFC, however, the July 2013 MRI revealed a new lesion on
her brainstem, and the January 2014 MRI showed several small abnormalities of the thoracic
spine, consistent with MS. See Tr. at 25. While the December 2014 MRI displayed results
unchanged from the July 2013 MRI, it is unclear from the ALJ’s decision how the results from
the MRI studies contributed to the assignment of little weight to Dr. Carrabine’s opinion. See id.
More importantly, the ALJ’s discussion of Plaintiff’s activities of daily living, which
makes up the majority of the explanation as to why Dr. Carrabine’s opinion was afforded little
weight, mischaracterizes portions of Plaintiff’s testimony and her statements of record. The ALJ
began by citing Plaintiff’s testimony to indicate that “[s]he does provide a lot of care for her
grandmother.” Tr. at 27. According to the ALJ, Plaintiff went to the grocery store, washed the
laundry, talked with friends on the phone, read, and watched television. Id. To support each of
these findings, the ALJ cited Plaintiff’s hearing testimony. See Tr. at 27. A review of Plaintiff’s
hearing testimony reveals that she actually stated that her grandmother, mom, or daughter drove
her to the grocery store. Id. at 50. Additionally, Plaintiff testified that she did not cook for her
grandmother, as her grandmother was a good cook, and that she only used the microwave to
visited August 30, 2017).
prepare food. Id. at 50. Regarding washing the laundry, Plaintiff testified that she would do the
laundry if someone helped her carry the laundry basket down the stairs, and that her grandmother
usually carried the basket for her. Id. at 49-50. Insofar as the ALJ indicated that Plaintiff talked
with friends on the phone, the Court does not find this to be particularly instructive as to
Plaintiff’s physical limitations. The same can be said of Plaintiff’s ability to read and watch
television. Moreover, the ALJ cited Plaintiff’s testimony when indicating that she read,
however, Plaintiff actually testified that she did not read. Id. at 50.
Additionally, the ALJ cited a Function Report prepared in November 2013 when stating
that Plaintiff went shopping for groceries and personal items, but omitted that Plaintiff indicated
that she shopped with her family. Tr. at 24, 214. The ALJ also stated, “[Plaintiff] socializes
with friends a few times a week,” citing the same November 2013 Function Report. Id. at 24.
The Function Report actually states that Plaintiff socialized with friends one to two times a week
“with minimal participation” and indicated that she “need[ed] transportation and some
assistance.” Id. at 215.
If an ALJ decides to discount or reject a treating physician’s opinion, he or she must
provide “good reasons” for doing so. SSR 96-2p. Here, the ALJ indicated that Dr. Carrabine’s
opinion was afforded little weight as it was not supported by the conservative treatment, a lack
of multiple hospitalizations, the MRI results, and Plaintiff’s activities of daily living. The ALJ
has failed to provide “good reasons” for discounting Dr. Carrabine’s opinion. While the Court
agrees that Plaintiff’s treatment was fairly conservative, the ALJ failed to explain how the lack
of multiple hospitalizations of a claimant with MS and the MRI results undermine Dr.
Carrabine’s opinion. Moreover, the ALJ selectively cited Plaintiff’s testimony and the medical
records when finding that her activities of daily living did not support Dr. Carrabine’s opinion.
A review of the hearing testimony and medical records reveals that the ALJ’s discussion of
Plaintiff’s activities of daily living did not accurately portray her testimony or the medical
evidence. For these reasons, this matter is remanded to the ALJ to evaluate Dr. Carrabine’s
opinion in accordance with the treating physician rule.5
For the foregoing reasons, Court REVERSES the ALJ’s decision and REMANDS
Plaintiff’s case for an evaluation of the opinion of Plaintiff’s treating physician in accordance
with the treating physician rule.
Date: August 31, 2017
/s/George J. Limbert
GEORGE J. LIMBERT
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff briefly discusses Dr. Carrabine’s opinion as to her mental limitations, indicating that the
ALJ gave little weight to Dr. Carrabine’s opinion of her mental limitations by stating, “[a]n individual with
such drastic mental limits would presumably not be able to care for an 81-year-old woman.” ECF Dkt. #15
at 15-16. Defendant does not address the ALJ’s treatment of Dr. Carrabine’s opinion as to Plaintiff’s mental
limitations. See ECF Dkt. #18. When finding the Dr. Carrabine’s opinion as to Plaintiff mental limitations
deserved no weight (Plaintiff incorrectly stated little weight was afforded to Carrabine’s opinion regarding
her mental limitations), the ALJ included her activities of daily living as a reason for the finding. This case
is being remanded due, in part, to the ALJ’s deficient analysis of Plaintiff’s activities of daily living. The
analysis performed on remand may impact the findings regarding Plaintiff’s activities of daily living and/or
physical limitations. According, on remand the ALJ must also consider whether Dr. Carrabine’s opinion as
to Plaintiff’s mental limitations deserves to be afforded any weight and provide “good reasons” if the opinion
is afforded less than controlling weight. See SSR 96-2p.
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