United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division
JAMES E. VANCE, on behalf of MELANIE S. VANCE, deceased PLAINTIFF
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
King, Magistrate Judge
the Court entered a memorandum opinion and order and a
judgment, which remanded this matter to the Commissioner for
calculation and payment of past-due Title II benefits for the
closed period between June 1, 2013 and February 24, 2016.
(Dockets # 20, 21.) This matter is before the Court on the
Commissioner's motion to amend or alter the prior order
and judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), to which
Plaintiff responded in opposition. (Dockets # 22, 23.)
standards governing Rule 59(e) motions
granting a Rule 59(e) motion tends to undermine finality of
judgments, it has been described as "an extraordinary
remed[y] reserved for the exceptional case."
Hamilton v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, No.
4:17-CV-00053-HBB, 2018 WL 2293958, at *1 (quoting Foster
v. DeLuca, 545 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2008)). The
underlying purpose of Rule 59(e) is to allow the district
court to correct its own clear errors, sparing the parties
and the appellate courts the burden of unnecessary appellate
proceedings. Benore v. Comm'r, No. 3:
08-CV-01738, at *1 (citing Howard v. United States,
533 F.3d 472, 475 (6th Cir. 2008)). The purpose is not simply
to give unhappy litigants a vehicle to raise new arguments,
present new evidence, or re-litigate old matters.
59(e) motion may legitimately be granted in four
circumstances: " there is a clear error of law, ...
 newly discovered evidence, ...  an intervening change
in controlling law, ... or  to prevent manifest
injustice." Hamilton v. Comm'r, No.
4:17-CV-00053-HBB, 2018 WL 2293958, at *1 (quoting
GenCorp, Inc. v. American International
Underwriters, 178 F.3d 804, 834 (6th Cir. 1999)). The
Commissioner's position is that the prior opinion
contains clear errors of law. (Dockets # 20, 22.)
facts and procedural history
2010, Plaintiff underwent liver transplant surgery and was
subsequently bedridden for approximately two years.
(Administrative Record (AR) at 36, 67, 1440.)
Administration terminated Plaintiff's receipt of
disability benefits effective June 1, 2013 (after she was no
longer bedridden) due to medical improvement, and Plaintiff
appealed the termination decision.
about February 24, 2016, Plaintiff was hospitalized for
several days due to recurrence of hyponatremia symptoms
(related to her transplant). (AR at 951.) In December 2016,
she was diagnosed with cancer. (ARat70.)
January 5, 2018, the Administrative Law Judge (AU) affirmed
the Administration's termination decision (due to medical
improvement) but found that Plaintiff's condition
subsequently deteriorated on February 24, 2016, such that she
was again disabled. (AU's decision, AR at 32-48.) The
AU's decision thus carved out a closed period of
non-disability between June 1, 2013 and February 24, 2016.
March 2019, Plaintiff died. (Docket # 17-1.)
judicial disturbance of the AU's decision is warranted if
1) the AU's decision was not supported by substantial
evidence in the administrative record; or 2) the AU's
decision did not comport with applicable legal standards.
Ealy v. Comm'r, 594 F.3d 504, 512 (6th Cir.
2010). The Court's prior opinion and order concluded that
the closed period of non-disability found by the AU was not
supported by substantial evidence (Docket # 20 at 7-8) and
also did not comport with applicable legal standards (id. at
8-10). The prior opinion concluded that the AU's
closed-period finding was not supported by substantial
evidence because "[e]very medical opinion in the
administrative record indicates that Plaintiff was unable to
attend work regularly or perform even low stress tasks after
her June 2010 liver transplant (with no in-between period of
non-disability) ... due to the side-effects of medication
Plaintiff took to prevent rejection of her transplanted
liver." (Docket # 20 at 7.) Alternatively, the prior
opinion concluded that the AU's closed-period finding did
not "comport with applicable legal standards set forth
in [Social Security Ruling] SSR 83-20/' 1983 WL 31249,
concerning determination of the date of re-onset of
disability (in this case, February 24, 2016 but not earlier).
(Id. at 8.)
Commissioner argues that the prior opinion erred in finding
that the AU's closed-period finding was not supported by
substantial evidence. (Docket # 22.) According to the
argument, the AU properly rejected "the medical opinions
[of] disabling side effects" (due to medication taken to
prevent liver rejection during the closed period) because
"the treatment notes failed to note severe side effects
... before February 2016." (Docket # 22 at 4 referencing
AU's decision at 38, 40-42.) The argument is unpersuasive
for two reasons. First, the treating physicians attributed
disabling limitations during the closed period to side
effects of medication taken to prevent organ rejection. (AR
at 1483, 2920, 3272.) The treating physicians were not
required to have previously documented these side effects in
their treatment notes for their opinions to be believed. An
AU may properly discount a treating physician's opinion
of debilitating symptoms if that opinion is
"inconsistent with [the physician's] own prior
assessments and treatment notes." Price v.
Comm'r,342 Fed.Appx. 172, 177 (6th Cir. 2009).
However, there was no such inconsistency in this case. The
contemporaneous treatment notes (during the closed period)
would not be expected to contain references to side effects
that were already well understood, ongoing, and unchanged.
The Commissioner confuses existence and documentation of side
effects and assumes that opinions based on side effects are
inconsistent with silence in the treatment notes regarding
those side effects. Second, to be entitled to controlling