United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
KARLA M. VILLAREAL, Plaintiff,
NANCY M. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
L. RUSSELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
filed this action seeking review of the final decision of the
Commissioner denying her disability insurance benefits and
benefits for a period of disability. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B) and (C), the matter was referred to
United States Magistrate Judge Gary M. Purcell for
preliminary review. On May 29, 2018, Judge Purcell issued a
Report and Recommendation wherein he recommended the matter
be remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings.
(Doc. No. 21). The Commissioner filed a timely objection to
the Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 22) to which
Plaintiff has filed a response (Doc. No. 23). The timely
objection gives rise to the Court's obligation to
undertake a de novo review of those portions of the
Report and Recommendation to which a party makes specific
objection. Having conducted this de novo review, the
Court finds as follows.
contends Judge Purcell erred in concluding that the
administrative law judge did not properly assess the opinion
of Plaintiff's treating physician, Daisy Matias, M.D.
Specifically, Judge Purcell concluded that the Commissioner
erred in assessing the September 14, 2016 opinion of Dr.
Mattias, wherein she stated:
Karla has severe Psoriasis complicated by Psoriatic
Arthopathy and Fibromyalgia.
Due to her illness, Karla cannot stand longer than 45
minutes, cannot lift more than one gallon, cannot sit for
more than one hour and has trouble making it to the bathroom
577. In assessing this opinion of Plaintiff's treating
physician, the administrative law judge stated:
The opinion at Exhibit 16F, from the claimant's treating
physician, cannot be given any weight. The opinion is clearly
based on the claimant's report to her doctor of her
limitations. Furthermore, the doctor makes no attempt to
determine what limitations would reasonably result from her
Judge Purcell concluded the administrative law judge failed
to follow the procedure to analyze the opinion of a treating
source, specifically because he failed to consider whether,
despite not being entitled to controlling weight, the opinion
should be given some weight in light of the factors set forth
in the regulations, including the length of the treatment
relationship, frequency of examination, the degree to which
the opinion of the physician is supported by relevant
evidence, consistence between the opinion and the record, and
whether the physician offering the opinion is a specialist.
Doc. No. 21, pp. 6-7. Judge Purcell concluded that although
the administrative law judge summarized Plaintiff's
medical records, the summary did not specifically identify
which records were those of Dr. Mattias, only mentioning her
by name when he rejected her opinion. He thus concluded that
the Commissioner's decision was legally insufficient and
therefore subject to remand.
Commissioner cites to Dr. Mattias' normal findings,
specifically with regard to gait, skin lesions and strength,
during the treatment relationship with Plaintiff and contends
that the failure to specifically link the rejection of Dr.
Mattias' opinion with her clinical findings in assessing
the weight of the opinion does not undercut the conclusion or
the methodology. The Court concurs with Judge Purcell's
conclusion that the administrative law judge applied the
incorrect legal standard in assessing the treating
physician's opinion, because he made speculative
inferences from medical reports. McGoffin v.
Barnhart, 288 F.3d 1248, 1252 (10th Cir.
2002). The Tenth Circuit has addressed treating physician
analysis similar to that presented here in Victory v.
Barnhart, 121 Fed.Appx. 819 (10th Cir. Feb.
the court noted the general standard for assessing the
opinion of a treating physician: “even if a treating
physician's opinion is not entitled to controlling
weight, however, treating source medical opinions are still
entitled to deference and must be weighed using all of the
factors provided in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527 and
416.927.” Id. (internal quotations and
citations omitted). If an administrative law judge rejects a
treating physician's opinion, the administrative law
judge must give specific reasons. Here the administrative law
judge gave a specific reason, that the opinion was clearly
based on the claimant's report to the doctor of her
limitations. “The ALJ's finding that [Dr.
Mattias's] opinion was based on claimant's own
subjective report of her symptoms impermissibly rests on his
speculative unsupported assumption.” Id. at
823. In Langley v. Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116
(10th Cir. 2004), the court made a similar
conclusion, finding that the administrative law judge erred
in rejecting an opinion based on speculation that the report
was based only on the claimant's subjective conclusion.
although an administrative law judge is not required to
specifically cite to each element of the test for weighing
expert opinions, here the administrative law judge made no
attempt to tie his rejection of Dr. Mattias' opinion to
her treatment records. See also Cook v. Astrue, 554
F.Supp.2d 1241, 1246-47 (D. Kan. 2008); see also Garcia
v. Barnhart, 188 Fed.Appx. 760, 764 (10th Cir. 2006)
(unpublished) (“This court has made it clear that when
an ALJ rejects a medical opinion...based on his speculation
that the doctor was unduly swayed by a patient's
subjective complaints, the ALJ deviates from [the] correct
legal standards and his decision is not supported by
substantial evidence”) (citation omitted); Johnson
v. Berryhill, No. 16-cv-3050-WJM2018 WL 1566838, *5 (D.
Colo. Mar. 30, 2018)(rejecting administrative law judge's
decision concluding that treatment reports documented
subjective complaints as substituting lay opinion and
declining to engage in post hoc evaluation). In the
instant case the administrative law judge did not
specifically tie his rejection of the treating
physician's opinion to any evidence of record. Although
the administrative law judge summarized the evidence, as
noted by Judge Purcell, in the summary the administrative law
judge did not specifically indicate that Dr. Mattias, who had
a long treatment relationship with Plaintiff, was the
treating physician. The Court cannot conclude based on the
administrative law judge's decision that he engaged in
the required assessment of the factors set forth in the
regulations before assigning the opinion of Dr. Mattias no
reasons set forth herein, the Report and Recommendation is
ADOPTED in its ENTIRETY and this action is reversed ...