HUFFINE v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER denying 14 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by MISTY D. HUFFINE, granting 18 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, and affirming Commissioner's decision that Petitioner is not disabled. Signed by Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell on 8/21/2017. (Attachments: # 1 Order) (awb)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
MISTY D. HUFFINE,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell
Docket Nos. 14 & 18
MEMORANDUM OPINION 1
Misty Huffine (“Petitioner”) contends that the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) incorrectly determined that she was not disabled because Administrative Law
Judge Karl Alexander (“ALJ”) did not give adequate weight to the medical opinion of her
treating psychiatrist as compared to the contrary medical opinions of state consultative examiners
when determining her mental residual functional capacity (“RFC”). The Commissioner responds
that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision to give less weight to Petitioner’s treating
psychiatrist because the psychiatrist’s medical opinion with respect to Petitioner’s mental RFC
did not comport with other evidence in Petitioner’s medical record.
Presently before the Court for disposition are cross motions for summary judgment.
(Docket Nos. 14, 18). Upon considering the parties’ briefs, Petitioner’s medical record, and
applicable law, the Court will: deny Petitioner’s motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 14);
grant the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 18); and affirm the
Commissioner’s determination that Petitioner is not disabled. (R. 1, 36.)
The parties fully consented to proceed before the undersigned. (Docket Nos. 10–11.)
Review of Record and Legal Standards
Petitioner protectively filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”)
payments on June 5, 2013, under Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act (“Act”).
(R. 41, 103.) Her application was initially denied on August 15, 2013. (R. 103.) She then
sought a hearing, which was set for February 27, 2015, before ALJ Karl Alexander. (R. 113,
Petitioner, her counsel, and impartial vocational expert Linda Dezack (“VE”)
attended the hearing. (R. 15.) The ALJ held that Petitioner was not disabled. (R. 36.) Petitioner
sought review of the ALJ’s decision by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) Appeals
Council. (R. 7.) The Appeals Council denied Petitioner’s request for review in mid-September
2016, instating the ALJ’s decision as the Commissioner’s decision. (R. 1.) Petitioner filed this
action in mid-November 2016 under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the Commissioner’s
decision. (Docket No. 3.)
In reviewing an administrative determination of the Commissioner, the question before
any court is whether there is substantial evidence in the agency record to support the findings of
the Commissioner that Petitioner did not sustain her burden of demonstrating that she was
disabled within the meaning of the Act. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971); Adorno v.
Shalala, 40 F.3d 43 (3d Cir. 1994).
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides that:
The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and
transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or
reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security,
with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing. The findings
of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .
Substantial evidence is “‘more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’” Richardson, 402 U.S.
at 401; (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Plummer v. Apfel,
186 F.3d 422 (3d Cir. 1999).
Because Petitioner and the Commissioner limited their arguments on appeal to whether
Petitioner is disabled due to mental-health issues (Docket Nos. 15, 19–20), the Court will focus
on the record relevant to those issues.
Petitioner appeared with counsel at the hearing held on February 27, 2015. (R. 15.)
Petitioner described her mental condition as “[c]onstantly depressed . . . I have a lot of anxiety”
and does not leave her house often. (R. 26.) She does not like “to be around people” and exits
her home only to “take the kids to the doctor’s or something.” (R. 26.) She confirmed that it is
painful for her to leave her home. (R. 26.) As for her ability “to get things done,” petitioner
noted she had no energy, could not lift laundry baskets, and that her kids had to help her.
(R. 27.) She also testified that she struggles with concentrating and finishing tasks. (R. 27–28.)
When she began discussing her pain from carpel tunnel, she became emotional.
(Petitioner’s counsel remarked “now these crying spells, is that . . . happening a lot?”) Petitioner
“cr[ies] every day” and her emotional state can swing from being “in a good mood” to
“depressed” in the next second. (R. 28.) To help manage her mental and emotional issues, she
sees a therapist twice a month and consults with her psychiatrist, Dr. Brinkley. (R. 29.) She
attributes her mental and emotional issues to “chronic pain.” (R. 29.)
After Petitioner’s testimony concluded, the ALJ focused on whether she could work.
Petitioner did not have past relevant work. (R. 20.) The ALJ posed the following hypothetical to
assume a hypothetical individual of the Claimant’s age,
educational background, and work history such as it is, who would
be able to perform a range of sedentary work.
Would require a sit/stand option in the form of being able to
change positions about every hour for three to four minutes
without breaking task. Could perform postural movements
occasionally, except could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.
Should not do any frequent or repetitive neck movements, and no
more than occasional overhead lifting or reaching. Should have no
concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, wet or humid
conditions, vibrations, or environmental pollutants, and no
exposure to hazards.
Should work in a low stress environment, with no production line
or assembly line type of pace, no independent decisionmaking
responsibilities, and minimal changes in the daily work routine.
Would be limited to unskilled work, involving only routine and
repetitive instructions and tasks; and should have no interaction
with co-workers and supervisors.
Would there be any work in the regional or national economy that
such a person could perform?
(R. 31–32.) The VE answered that Petitioner could perform three sedentary jobs: addresser,
document preparer, and glass waxer. (R. 32.) The ALJ did not ask the VE any more questions.
(R. 33.) Petitioner’s counsel did.
Petitioner’s counsel asked the VE about the impact to the hypothetical if she “factor[ed]
in that the individual is seriously limited in the ability to use judgment, relate to co-workers,
interact with supervisors, deal with work stresses, and maintain attention and concentration . . . .”
(R. 33.) Petitioner’s attorney highlighted exhibit B-16-F, which was produced by Petitioner’s
psychiatrist Dr. Brinkley, to the VE. (R. 33.) The exhibit defined a serious limit as “the ability
to function . . . is unsatisfactory, but not precluded.” (R. 33.) Considering the attorney’s changes
to the original hypothetical, the VE replied that the subject individual could not be employed at
full-time status. (R. 33.)
Petitioner’s counsel also created a new hypothetical for the VE. In it, she asked the VE
to assume “a hypothetical individual of the Claimant’s age, education, past work experience,
with exclusively the limitation that there are frequent deficiencies of concentration, persistence,
or pace, resulting from failure to complete tasks in a timely manner.” (R. 33.) Frequent is
defined as “two-thirds of the day.” (R. 34.) Those parameters’ impact would preclude any
competitive employment for that individual, according to the VE.
workplace tolerance for an employee being off task is “ten percent of the time, or six minutes of
[sixty].” (R. 34.)
The issue before the Court is whether there is substantial evidence supporting the
Commissioner’s finding that Petitioner is not disabled. The term “disability” is defined in 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) as:
inability to engage in any 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
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A) provides the requirements for a disability determination:
An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if
his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such
severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but
cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience,
engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists
in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in
the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job
vacancy exists for him, or whether he would he hired if he applied
for work. For purposes of the preceding sentence . . . “work which
exists in the national economy” means work which exists in
significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives
or in several regions of the country.
A “physical or mental impairment” is “an impairment that results from anatomical,
physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3). These provisions are also
applied for purposes of establishing a period of disability. 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(2)(A). While
some regard these provisions as “very harsh,” the courts must follow them. NLRB v. Staiman
Bros., 466 F.2d 564 (3d Cir. 1972); Choratch v. Finch, 438 F.2d 342 (3d Cir. 1971); Woods v.
Finch, 428 F.2d 469 (3d Cir. 1970).
On December 20, 2012, Dr. Brinkley observed that Petitioner had a fairly depressed
affect but demonstrated strong speech, good eye contact, intact orientation, memory, and
cognition, and no suicidal or homicidal ideation. (R. 474.) Her symptoms improved after she
used Ambien for sleep aid and Cymbalta for anxiety.
Dr. Brinkley diagnosed
Petitioner with (1) a mood disorder (depression) secondary to chronic pain and (2) agoraphobia.
Petitioner attended an April 2, 2013 appointment with Dr. Brinkley, in which he assessed
Petitioner’s mental ability to perform work-related activities.
checked boxes indicating that Petitioner was seriously limited in her ability to use judgment,
relate to co-workers, interact with supervisors, deal with work stresses, and maintain
attention/concentration. (R. 639.) The form defined “seriously limited” as “[a]bility to function
in this area is unsatisfactory, but not precluded.”
Supporting his reasoning,
Dr. Brinkley stated that Petitioner’s mood disturbances decrease concentration, which makes
work relationships difficult, and she struggles to leave her home due to anxiety. (R. 640.) He
also rated Petitioner as seriously limited in understanding, remembering, and carrying out
complex job instructions due to anxiety and poor self-esteem caused by depression and anxiety
disorder. (R. 640.) As for Petitioner’s ability to make personal-social adjustments, she is
seriously limited in maintaining her personal appearance, relating predictably in social situations,
and demonstrating reliability. (R. 640.) Dr. Brinkley attributes this to changes in Petitioner’s
anxiety level and moods, which create unpredictable behaviors and the frequent need for
absences from work.
Finally, Dr. Brinkley indicated through checkmarks that
Petitioner has moderate restriction in daily living activities, marked difficulty in maintaining
social functioning, frequent concentration, persistence of pace deficiencies affecting her ability
to timely complete tasks in work settings or elsewhere, and one or two deterioration or
decompensation episodes in work or work-like settings. (R. 643.)
Petitioner visited Dr. Leonida near the end of April 2014. (R. 791.) Dr. Leonida noted
that: Petitioner’s anxiety and mood were stable; she had not met with psychiatrist Dr. Brinkley
for six months; and she had not taken medicine (likely for her mental health issues) since her last
appointment with Dr. Brinkley. (R. 791.) Petitioner’s mood and affect were normal. (R. 793.)
Dr. Leonida told petitioner to make an appointment with Dr. Brinkley to restart her medications.
In records from a December 29, 2014 visit, Dr. Brinkley wrote that Petitioner was
cooperative, spoke at a slow rate but with a normal amount of speech, was goal-oriented,
demonstrated logical thoughts, was tearful and frustrated with her anxiety level, and did not
demonstrate suicidal or homicidal ideation or evidence of hallucinations or delusions. (R. 667.)
In reviewing a disability claim, in addition to considering the medical and vocational
evidence, the Commissioner must consider subjective symptoms. Baerga v. Richardson, 500
F.2d 309 (3d Cir. 1974). As the court stated in Bittel v. Richardson, 441 F.2d 1193, 1195 (3d
Symptoms which are real to the claimant, although unaccompanied
by objective medical data, may support a claim for disability
benefits, providing, of course, the claimant satisfies the requisite
burden of proof.
In Good v. Weinberger, 389 F. Supp. 350, 353 (W.D. Pa. 1975), the court stated:
Bittel seeks to help those claimants with cases that so often fall
within the spirit—but not the letter—of the Act. That plaintiff did
not satisfy the factfinder in this regard, so long as proper criteria
were used, is not for us to question.
The applicable regulations require more explicit findings concerning the various
vocational facts which the Act requires to be considered in making findings of disability in some
cases. The regulations, published at 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1501, et seq., set forth an orderly and
logical sequential process for evaluating all disability claims. In this sequence, the ALJ must
first decide whether Petitioner is engaging in substantial gainful activity. If not, then the severity
of her impairments must be considered.
If the impairments are severe, then it must be
determined whether she meets or equals the “Listings of Impairments” in Appendix 1 of the
Regulations which the Commissioner has deemed of sufficient severity to establish disability. If
the impairments do not meet or equal the Listings, then it must be ascertained whether she can do
her past relevant work. If not, then her RFC must be ascertained, considering all the medical
evidence in the file. The finding of RFC is the key to the remainder of findings, including
whether Petitioner can resume any past relevant work. If not, the ALJ must assess whether
Petitioner can perform any work corresponding with her RFC in the national economy. At that
stage, the Commissioner has a burden going forward to provide evidence of jobs in the national
economy that would be suitable for Petitioner.
The ALJ analyzed Petitioner’s disability claim using the standard five-step method. He
first determined that Petitioner had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since she applied
for SSI on June 5, 2013. (R. 41.) Second, he found that Petitioner had the following severe
impairments: “degenerative disk disease of the cervical spine and chronic neck strain, myofascial
trapezius pain; carpal tunnel syndrome of the right upper extremity; fibromyalgia; obstructive
and restrictive lung disease; asthma and emphysema; migraine disorder; and anxiety disorder.”
(R. 41.) Third, Petitioner’s impairments or combination of impairments does not meet or
medically equal the severity of a listed impairment.
The ALJ then determined
The claimant . . . [can] perform sedentary work as defined in 20
CFR 416.967(a) except that the claimant requires a sit-stand
option, permitting her to change positions about every four for
three to four minutes without breaking task; can perform postural
movements occasionally except cannot climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds; should not do any frequent or repetitive neck
movements; should not do more than occasional overhead
reaching; should have no concentrated exposure to temperature
extremes, wet or humid conditions, vibrations or environmental
pollutants; should have no exposure to hazards; should work in a
low-stress environment with no production line or assembly line
type of pace, no independent decision making responsibilities and
minimal changes in the work routine; is limited to unskilled work
requiring only routine, repetitive instructions and tasks; and should
have no interaction with the general public and no more than
occasional interaction with co-workers and supervisors.
Focusing on Petitioner’s mental-health conditions, the ALJ noted Petitioner’s claims that:
she leaves her house only for doctor’s appointments; she struggles to concentrate or remember
things due to depression and pain, which prevent her from finishing tasks; she suffers from
crying spells that occur at random; and her doctors believe her depression substantially stems
from chronic pain. (R. 46.) The ALJ acknowledged that Petitioner’s medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some of her symptoms but her “statements
concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely
credible.” (R. 46.) He justified his conclusion in two primary ways.
First, he generally attacked Petitioner’s credibility by citing to what he surmised as
exaggerated pain claims. (R. 48.) For example, Petitioner went to the emergency room in
September 2011 for a stubbed toe and claimed that it caused a pain level of nine out of ten; she
walked out of the emergency room after receiving medication. (R. 325, 328.) In an emergency
room visit in April 2011, Petitioner reported her pain as a ten out of ten for constipation.
(R. 336, 339.) The ALJ also cited Petitioner’s pain rating of a two-centimeter scalp cut as a ten
out of ten after passing out, falling, and hitting her head. (R. 764, 766, 770.) These pain ratings
from “relatively innocuous conditions largely discredit her . . . grave allegations of pain arising
from her . . . impairments.” (R. 48.)
Second, the ALJ pointed to medical evidence showing that Petitioner’s depression,
anxiety, and agoraphobia-related symptoms were controlled or controllable such that she could
work. Records from an April 2014 visit with Dr. Leonida indicate that Petitioner’s mood was
stable even though she had not seen Dr. Brinkley, her psychiatrist, or taken her medications since
her last visit with him six months prior. (R. 791.) Dr. Brinkley noted in a December 2012 visit
that Petitioner was “experiencing some anxiety but this is better with the Cymbalta.” (R. 474.)
The ALJ noted Petitioner “does not like crowds” and modified her RFC to preclude “public
contact jobs.” (R. 48.) He also stated that “when the claimant takes her prescribed medication,
her conditions would not preclude the very limited mental demands” of the RFC. (R. 48.)
The ALJ ascribed more weight to the findings of state agency medical consultants than
treating psychiatrist Dr. Brinkley. (R. 44.) The state consultants’ reports “were helpful and
persuasive in establishing that the claimant is not nearly as limited as she alleges” and their
medical opinions are supported by “objective evidence, the claimant’s allegations and the
treating sources’ notes.” (R. 49.) Dr. Brinkley’s findings, particularly regarding Petitioner’s
mental RFC, “are not consistent with the treatment records or the claimant’s activities of daily
living and are outweighed by the unanimous conclusions of the [state] consultants, who are
experienced in application of this agency’s policies.” (R. 49.) He also felt that Dr. Brinkley
relied “too heavily on the claimant’s subjective, unverifiable allegations, and are not consistent
with her documented ability to shop independently, drive and transport her children. (R. 44.)
The ALJ also criticized Dr. Brinkley’s reliance on GAF scores because they “are essentially
based completely on the claimant’s subjective complaints and other statements at that particular
time” and are then “subjectively processed through the evaluator’s own individual mindset,”
which could lead to inaccuracies and inconsistencies. (R. 44–45.) He gave Dr. Brinkley’s GAF
scores little weight and concluded that they, along with “Dr. Brinkley’s other opinions, are not
supported by objective findings and are inconsistent with the claimant’s documented activities of
daily living.” (R. 45.)
In the fourth step, the ALJ found that Petitioner had no past relevant work. (R. 49.) This
allowed the ALJ to advance to step five, in which he held that the VE correctly determined that
Petitioner could work in the national economy as an addresser, document preparer, or glass
waxer. (R. 50.) The ALJ concluded that Petitioner was not disabled. (R. 50.)
Distilled to its essence, this appeal concerns whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ’s decision to give more weight to the state agency consulting physicians’ medical opinion
than Dr. Brinkley’s medical opinion in determining Petitioner’s mental RFC. (Docket Nos. 15
at 2; 19 at 7). Several core principles in the social-security-disability realm guide a review of the
ALJ’s (or the Commissioner’s) decision below.
“The ALJ—not treating or examining
physicians or State agency consultants—must make the ultimate disability and RFC
determinations.” Chandler v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 667 F.3d 356, 361 (3d Cir. 2011); 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.927(d)(1–2). It is the ALJ’s obligation to weigh the medical record and choose between
conflicting accounts; district courts must defer to the ALJ’s findings of fact that are supported by
substantial evidence. Williams v. Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178, 1187 (3d Cir. 1992). “[T]he opinion
of a treating physician does not bind the ALJ on the issue of functional capacity.” Brown v.
Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 196 n.2 (3d Cir. 2011). “An ALJ may reject a treating physician’s opinion
outright only on the basis of contradictory medical evidence, but may afford a treating
physician’s opinion more or less weight depending upon the extent to which supporting
explanations are provided.” Plummer, 186 F.3d at 429 (citing Newhouse v. Heckler, 753 F.2d
283, 286 (3d Cir. 1984)). But ALJs “cannot reject evidence for no reason or the wrong reason.”
Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 707 (3d Cir. 1981). Nor may reviewing courts affirm the
Commissioner’s decision denying a Social Security disability claim on a ground not relied upon
by the Commissioner. Fargnoli v. Halter, 247 F.3d 34, 44 n.7 (3d Cir. 2001).
The ALJ properly determined that evidence in the medical record contradicted
Dr. Brinkley’s medical opinion that Petitioner is seriously limited in her ability to use judgment,
relate to co-workers, interact with supervisors, deal with work stresses, maintain
attention/concentration, understand, remember, and carry out complex job instructions, maintain
her personal appearance, relate predictably in social situations, and demonstrate reliability.
(R. 49, 639–40.)
In doing so, he cited records from Petitioner’s April 2014 visit with
Dr. Leonida showing that Petitioner’s mood was stable even though she had not seen
Dr. Brinkley or taken her medications since her last visit with him six months before. (R. 48,
791.) The ALJ also pointed to notes from Petitioner’s December 2012 visit with Dr. Brinkley in
which Dr. Brinkley indicated that Petitioner was “experiencing some anxiety but this is better
with the Cymbalta.” (R. 48, 474.) After describing these documents, the ALJ concluded that
“when the claimant takes her prescribed medication, her conditions would not preclude the very
limited mental demands” of the RFC. (R. 48.)
The ALJ’s doubt of Dr. Brinkley’s medical opinion is tenable considering that a
reasonable mind could accept that Petitioner’s mental health significantly improved in the time
between Dr. Brinkley’s April 2, 2013 negative mental-health assessment of Petitioner to
Petitioner’s more positive visit with Dr. Leonida a year later. Consol. Edison, 305 U.S. at 229;
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; (R. 637, 639–43, 791.) The ALJ demonstrated his choice to
diminish Dr. Brinkley’s medical opinion on the basis of contradictory medical evidence by
writing that Dr. Brinkley’s findings: “are not consistent with the treatment records . . . .” (R. 49.)
Because a treating physician’s medical opinion may be dismissed if other medical record
evidence contradicts it, Plummer, 186 F.3d at 429 (citing Newhouse, 753 F.2d at 286), the ALJ
had a legally adequate basis to give less weight to Dr. Brinkley’s opinion.
When an ALJ does not give controlling weight to a treating physician’s opinion, SSA
regulations provide a factor test for ALJs to follow when considering the weight to ascribe to
medical opinions. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c). These factors are: (1) examining relationship; (2)
treatment relationship; (i) length of the treatment relationship and frequency of examination; (ii)
nature and extent of the treatment relationship; (3) supportability; (4) consistency; (5)
specialization; (6) other factors. Id. Although the ALJ did not explicitly spell out all of these
factors in his decision, his decision is detailed enough for this Court to meaningfully review it.
See Laverde v. Colvin, No. 14-1242, 2015 WL 5559984, at *6 n.3 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 21, 2015)
(dismissing the notion that an ALJ needs to “explicitly list” and discuss factors in a regulation
and instead requiring that an ALJ need only explain his evaluation of the medical evidence for
the district court to meaningfully review whether his reasoning accords with the regulation’s
The ALJ ascribed more weight to the state agency physicians’ medical determinations
than Dr. Brinkley’s findings in a proper manner.
“State agent opinions merit significant
consideration” due to the agents’ expertise in the social security disability programs. Chandler,
667 F.3d at 361 (citing SSR 06-6p). ALJs must “consider any existing State consultant reports.”
Chandler, 667 F.3d at 362 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1519, 404.1527(f)).
regulations impose no limit on how much time may pass between a report and the ALJ’s decision
in reliance on it.” Chandler, 667 F.3d at 361. State consultative examiners Dr. Melissa Diorio
and Dr. Monica Yeater concurred that Petitioner could handle a work schedule, maintain a
consistent pace, make simple decisions, execute simple and short instructions, and behave in a
socially appropriate manner despite her mental-health issues (R. 75–76, 88–89.) The ALJ noted
both the consistency of the state consultants’ reports (they had “unanimous conclusions”) and
their specialization in mental health (both possess Psy.D. degrees) when explaining why he gave
their findings great weight. (R. 44, 75–76, 88–89.) His reasons for doing so are acceptable
under SSA regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c).
Throughout his decision, the ALJ adequately explained why he discounted Dr. Brinkley’s
medical opinion in accordance with 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c).
The ALJ acknowledged
Dr. Brinkley’s specialist status and his treating relationship with Petitioner.
Dr. Brinkley’s records regarding Petitioner, cited by the ALJ, spanned from December 2012 to
December 29, 2014, showing that the ALJ comprehended the length and extent of Petitioner’s
treating relationship with Dr. Brinkley. (R. 44, 48, 474, 666–67.) The ALJ addressed the
supportability and consistency factors by showing that Dr. Brinkley’s medical opinion
contradicted other medical record evidence. See supra pp. 12–13. By highlighting the lack of
consistency between the medical record as a whole and Dr. Brinkley’s medical opinion, the ALJ
demonstrated a logical basis in accordance with SSA regulations for why he gave less weight to
Dr. Brinkley’s medical opinion than the state agency physicians’ opinion.
§ 416.927(c). As a result, the ALJ appropriately ascribed greater weight to the state agency
consultants’ opinion than Dr. Brinkley’s opinion on Petitioner’s mental RFC.
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s weighing of the medical opinions, which, in
turn, supports the RFC he derived from the medical opinions. Consol. Edison, 305 U.S. at 229;
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; see supra 12–14. The VE determined that Petitioner could work as
an addresser, document preparer, or glass waxer using the properly derived RFC. (R. 50.)
Substantial evidence, therefore, supports the ALJ’s holding that Petitioner is not disabled.
(R. 50.) 2
Petitioner’s motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 14) will be denied, the
Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 18) will be granted, and the
Commissioner’s decision that Petitioner is not disabled will be affirmed. (R. 1, 36.)
Dated: August 21, 2017
/s/ Robert C. Mitchell
ROBERT C. MITCHELL
United States Magistrate Judge
All counsel of record
Since the ALJ expressed an adequate basis for discounting Dr. Brinkley’s medical opinion
when the ALJ decided Petitioner’s RFC, the Court need not consider whether the ALJ’s
references to Dr. Brinkley’s overreliance on Petitioner’s subjective complaints, Petitioner’s
objective of seeking benefits, and Petitioner’s “sporadic and transitory” activities are cause for
remanding this matter for further administrative proceedings. (Docket No. 15 at 5–7.)
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