United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
M. HOOD SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court upon cross motions for summary
judgment [DEs 10 and 13]. The plaintiff has also filed a
reply memorandum. For the reasons stated below, this action
will be remanded to the Acting Commissioner for further
consideration of Plaintiff's ability to perform
substantial gainful activity on a sustained basis.
Court's review of the Acting Commissioner's decision
concerning disability upon reconsideration is limited to an
inquiry into whether or not the findings of the Acting
Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence, and
whether the correct legal standards were applied.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971). Moreover, this
Court's review is limited “to the particular points
that [the claimant] appears to raise in [his] brief on
appeal.” Hollon v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
447 F.3d 477, 491 (6th Cir. 2006).
filed an application for disability insurance benefits (DIB)
in August 2013, alleging that she became disabled in January
2012, due to a variety of physical and mental impairments,
particularly bipolar disorder (Transcript of Administrative
Record (Tr.) 170-82, 221). After early administrative denials
(Tr. 77-105, 107-10, 112-18) and a de novo hearing
(Tr. 27-72), an ALJ denied her claim in July 2015 (Tr. 9-26).
The agency's Appeals Council subsequently declined
Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-6), making the
ALJ's decision the final agency decision for purposes of
judicial review (Tr. 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the
final agency decision for purposes of judicial review.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, 422.210(a) (2016).
This appeal followed.
argues that the Acting Commissioner's final decision
should be reversed (or at least remanded) for two reasons.
First, she asserts the ALJ erroneously assigned “no
weight” to the medical opinions of the treating
physician, Dr. Stephen Lamb, a psychiatrist who had treated
the plaintiff for 14 years, in violation of the treating
physician rule. This case is on all fours with Gayheart
v. Commissioner, 710 F.3d 365 (6th Cir. 2013), the
leading Sixth Circuit case on how an ALJ must weigh medical
opinions and on the treating physician rule. Second, she
contends the ALJ refused to take testimony from the
plaintiff's attending psychiatrist, Dr. Lamb, who
attended the hearing and wanted to testify, when it was clear
that Dr. Lamb's testimony would have been helpful to the
ALJ's understanding of the plaintiff's medical
condition. Given these two issues, the Court finds it
necessary to focus on Plaintiff's mental impairments.
was 48 years old on her alleged onset date (Tr. 176). She has
a high school education (Tr. 222), and past relevant work as
a material handler/team member at an auto plant (Tr. 68-69,
had a long history of mental health treatment with Stephen
Lamb, M.D. (Tr. 575-76, 485-517, 539-52). In late 2012,
Plaintiff started having violent thoughts about a coworker
(Tr. 63, 64, 345), and in January 2013, Plaintiff told Dr.
Lamb that she was very upset and agitated and unable to cope
with work. She wanted to go on disability (Tr. 512).
Plaintiff subsequently received short-term and long-term
disability from her job (Tr. 67, 345).
Lamb's subsequent treatment notes reflected
Plaintiff's symptoms waxed and waned over time (Tr.
495-511), particularly around the time period after her best
friend died in a car accident (Tr. 502-03), but she remained
active. For instance, she continued regularly attending her
sobriety group meetings (Tr. 267, 500, 503, 504, 505, 508);
gave rides to friends (Tr. 53, 543); volunteered (Tr. 546);
went outside (Tr. 235, 248, 543, 546); and spent time with
children (Tr. 497, 500, 501). Plaintiff also regularly
attended counseling sessions with social worker, Deborah
Spicer (Tr. 306-43, 460-84).
Dr. Lamb and Ms. Spicer provided letters and completed forms
regarding Plaintiff's limitations. In July 2013, Ms.
Spicer completed forms stating that Plaintiff could not do
her job on the assembly line at the Toyota plant (Tr. 319).
In August 2014, Dr. Lamb completed a form in which he opined
that Plaintiff was moderately limited in remembering
instructions and work-like procedures; handling out very
short and simple instructions; maintaining attention and
concentration for extended periods; sustaining an ordinary
routine; working in coordination with others; making simple
work-related decisions; interacting with the general public
and getting along with coworkers and peers; maintaining
socially appropriate behavior; remaining aware of normal
hazards; and set realistic goals. Dr. Lamb stated Plaintiff
was markedly limited in handling detailed instructions,
completing a normal workday and workweek, handling
supervision, and responding appropriately to changes in the
work setting (Tr. 492-94). Dr. Lamb also opined that
Plaintiff had no restrictions of activities of daily living;
moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning;
moderate deficiencies in concentration, persistence, and
pace; and four or more episodes of decompensation, each of
extended duration (Tr. 489).
same month, Ms. Spicer completed the same form also assessing
multiple marked and moderate limitations in Plaintiff's
mental functioning (Tr. 457-59). She also wrote a letter
stating Plaintiff was compliant with treatment, but had a
significant struggle to achieve and maintain a consistent
euthymic mood. She stated that although Plaintiff had
improved, her symptoms continued and affected the quality of
her interpersonal relationships. Ms. Spicer stated that
Plaintiff's ability to cope with work was significantly
compromised and she would likely have significant
difficulties. She recommended “continued
disability” (Tr. 456).
letter dated October 8, 2014, Dr. Lamb discussed how
Plaintiff's symptoms wax and wane (Tr. 486). He stated
that Plaintiff's course seemed to be one of brief
improvements on medicine followed by a marked worsening,
which had prevented her from doing any meaningful work (Tr.
487). The following month, Dr. Lamb completed another form in
which he opined that Plaintiff had poor or no ability to
relate to co-workers, deal with the public and work stresses,
interact with supervisors, maintain attention and
concentration, and demonstrate reliability. He estimated that
Plaintiff would miss four or more days of work every month
(Tr. 519). In December 2014, Ms. Spicer completed the same
form opining Plaintiff had poor or no ability in these same
areas as well as in the area of using judgment (Tr. 520).
Lamb authored another letter on June 22, 2015, in which he
stated that he had been treating Plaintiff for depression,
anxiety, and bipolar disorder since 2001, and during that
time, he had tried many different medications with varying
degrees of success (Tr. 575). He noted that Plaintiff's
emotional problems worsened in late 2012, and he took her off
work in early 2013, as she was potentially a danger to
herself and others and not able to perform her job (Tr.
575-76). Dr. Lamb opined that Plaintiff meets Listing 12.04
as her symptoms caused marked difficulties in maintaining
concentration, persistence or pace and repeated episodes of
decompensation, along with a residual disease process that
resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal
increase in mental demands would cause her to decompensate
(Tr. 575). Dr. Lamb noted that he had suggested Plaintiff
check herself into a psychiatric hospital in February 2015,
because of the severity of her condition at that time. He
concluded that Plaintiff had been unable to perform her job
since January 2013 (Tr. 576).
also underwent a consultative psychological examination in
December 2013, with Edd Easton-Hogg, Psy.D. Plaintiff said
she had been receiving mental health treatment for many
years, for depression, anxiety, stress, and paranoia. She
stated she had a history of substance abuse and attended a
religious based recovery program (Tr. 345). Plaintiff
reported she was able to manage bills and shop. She enjoyed
television, church, and the computer and said that she had
appropriate social contact on a routine basis. On
examination, Plaintiff was well groomed, cooperative, and
fully oriented and had normal posture and gait. She could
spell the word “world” backward and had average
ability to repeat digits forward and backward. Plaintiff was
able to compute basic math calculations and she had normal
attention to task and concentration with no memory deficits.
Plaintiff had normal eye contact, responsive facial
expressions, appropriate affect, a neutral mood, normal
speech, and logically organized thoughts. Dr. Easton-Hogg
estimated Plaintiff had average intelligence and found she
had intact abstract thoughts Dr. Easton-Hogg estimated
Plaintiff had average intelligence and found she had intact
abstract thought processes, good judgment, adequate insight,
and appropriate decision-making skills. Plaintiff's
coping abilities were normal and she displayed no skill
deficits (Tr. 346).
Easton-Hogg assessed bipolar II disorder and substance abuse
in remission with a GAF score of 60. He opined that
Plaintiff's ability to handle instructions and sustain
attention and concentration toward the performance of simple
repetitive tasks, and respond appropriately to supervisors
and coworkers appeared slightly affected. He thought