United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
King, Magistrate Judge United States District Court.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Complaint
seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
of the final decision of the Commissioner denying his claim
for Social Security disability benefits. The fact and law
summaries of Plaintiff and Defendant are at Dockets # 16 and
21, and the case is ripe for determination. The parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate
Judge to determine this case, with any appeal lying before
the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. (Docket # 11).
the ALJ's decision not to give great or controlling
weight to the medical opinion of Plaintiff's treating
psychiatrist, John Sallee, was not supported by substantial
evidence, the Court will REMAND this case to the Commissioner
for a new decision.
ALJ's decision on Plaintiff's disability claim
was born in 1983 and alleges disability due to AIDS,
affective disorder (including bipolar disorder), anxiety
disorder (including panic disorder, obsessive compulsive
disorder, agoraphobia, and post-traumatic stress disorder),
and anorexia. (Administrative Record (“AR”), p.
20). He stated that he has had violent encounters with his
father in the past, which he does not completely remember,
and that he has made eleven attempts on his life. (AR, p.
26). Plaintiff was date raped in 2004, discovered he was HIV
positive in 2005, and last worked in 2008 in San Francisco,
after being gang raped. (AR, pp. 25, 54- 56). He was unable
to continue working due to rape trauma and fear of men. In
2009, he returned home to Kentucky, where he lives with his
parents. (AR, p. 26). He no longer drives, and he relies on
his mother to take him to appointments. He mostly stays at
home due to agoraphobia and fear of the public. (AR, pp.
previously applied for Social Security disability benefits.
The Administration denied his claim, and the denial became
final. In 2014, he again applied for benefits, alleging he
became disabled on September 1, 2010. (AR, pp. 18, 20). He
was last insured for Title II benefits on March 31, 2011.
(AR, p. 20).
connection with the prior application, Plaintiff was examined
in October 2010 at the request of the Commissioner by
psychologist Thomas Muehleman, Ph.D. Dr. Muehleman diagnosed
bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder with obsessive-compulsive
symptoms, and anorexia nervosa. (AR, p. 624). Dr. Muehleman
opined that these impairments likely render Plaintiff
“moderately to markedly” impaired in his
abilities to: 1) relate to fellow workers and supervisors,
and 2) tolerate stress and pressures associated with
day-to-day work activity. (Id.)
February 2015, in connection with the present application,
the Commissioner's non-examining psychologist Mary
Thompson, Ph.D., opined non-disabling mental limitations.
(AR, pp. 147-150).
April 2015, treating psychiatrist John Sallee completed the
standard mental assessment form. (AR, pp. 835-36). Like Dr.
Muehleman, Dr. Sallee diagnosed bipolar disorder and
obsessive-compulsive disorder. Dr. Sallee added that
Plaintiff suffers from panic disorder. Dr. Sallee found that
Plaintiff has “extreme” limitations in his
abilities to: 1) complete a normal workday and work week
without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and
to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable No.
and length of rest periods, 2) respond to changes in the work
setting, and 3) travel in unfamiliar places or use public
transportation. Dr. Sallee further found that Plaintiff has
“marked” limitations in his abilities to: 1)
understand and remember detailed instructions, 2) perform
activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance,
and be punctual within customary tolerances, 3) work in
coordination with proximity to others without being
distracted by them, 4) interact appropriately with the
general public, 5) accept instructions and respond
appropriately to criticism from others, and 6) get along with
coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting
behavioral extremes. (Id.).
September 2016, Dr. Sallee opined that “I have high
hopes for [Plaintiff's] future improvements through
medication management and therapy, though I believe that the
prospect for his ability to hold a regular job of any type is
nearly nonexistent for the foreseeable future.” (AR, p.
1032). Dr. Sallee based this opinion on the fact that
Plaintiff “has been traumatized in the past, and this
continues to affect him.” (Id.). He
“struggles on a nearly daily basis with panic attacks
and anxiety, as well as mood symptoms” and
“sometimes has problems with paranoia.”
January 2017 decision, the administrative law judge (ALJ)
gave “little” weight to Dr. Muehleman's
opinion, “partial” weight to Dr. Thompson's
opinion, and found that Dr. Sallee's opinion “is
not entitled to great or controlling weight, as it is not
supported by the record.” (AR, pp. 28-29). The ALJ
found that Plaintiff is able to “perform simple and
routine work having occasional contact with the public,
coworkers, and supervisors” and can “perform work
that is non-fast-paced or quota driven and any changes in
[his] work routine or environment must be rare and gradually
introduced.” (AR, p. 25). The ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not disabled through the decision date because,
although he cannot perform his past relevant work, he retains
the ability to perform a significant No. of jobs in the
national economy. (AR, p. 31). Examples of such jobs are
medium scrap sorter, laundry laborer, and nursery worker
(plants not children) and light collator, garment sorter, and
informational purposes only, Plaintiff reports that he filed
another application for benefits after the ALJ's decision
and was awarded Title XVI supplemental security income (SSI)
benefits. (Docket # 16, p. 8).
erred in weighing Dr. Sallee's opinion.
treating physician's medical opinion is entitled to
special weight. It is entitled to “controlling
weight” if it is “well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and
is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in
your case record.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2).
Even if it is not entitled to controlling weight, a treating
physician's opinion might still be entitled to greater
weight than any other opinion in the administrative record.
The ALJ's decision must ...