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McClellan v. Astrue

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 3, 2016

DELISA MCLELLAN, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS

          Donna F. Martinez United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Delisa McLellan, seeks judicial review of a partially favorable decision by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) granting plaintiff’s application for social security income (“SSI”) but denying her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”).[1] (R. 10-20.) Currently pending are plaintiff’s motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) (doc. #21) and defendant’s motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner. (Doc. #27.) On July 15, 2016, pursuant to the court’s order, counsel filed a joint stipulation of facts and medical chronology, which I incorporate by reference. (Doc. #39.) I heard oral argument on July 28, 2016. For the following reasons, plaintiff’s motion is DENIED and defendant’s motion is GRANTED.[2]

         I. Legal Standard

         The standards for determining an individual’s entitlement to DIB, the Commissioner’s five-step framework for evaluating disability claims, and the district court’s review of the final decision of the Commissioner are well-settled. I am following those standards, but do not repeat them here.

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff makes five arguments. She contends that the ALJ erred by (a) failing to give controlling weight to the opinion of her treating physician, Dr. Vincent Carlesi; (b) failing to meet his burden of proof that plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work until October 1, 2010; (c) failing to apply the requirements of Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 83-20; (d) failing to disclose new evidence obtained after the hearing to either plaintiff or her attorney; and (e) failing to properly explain his credibility determination.

         A. Treating Physician Rule

         Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ erred by rejecting the opinion of her treating physician, Dr. Carlesi.

         Under the treating physician rule, a treating physician’s opinion is accorded controlling weight when that opinion is “well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the] record.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2); see Halloran v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 28, 31-32 (2d Cir. 2004). The ALJ must “give good reasons” for the weight accorded to the treating physician’s opinion. See Halloran, 362 F.3d at 32; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2) (“We will always give good reasons in our notice of determination or decision for the weight we give your treating source’s opinion.”).

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by rejecting Dr. Carlesi’s “multiple statements of disability and descriptions of his examinations that showed persistent severe low back and leg pain, cervical spine pain, and antalgic gait, ” and by “ignor[ing] all of Dr. Carlesi’s statements of disability between January 24, 2005 and May 16, 2007.” (Doc. #21-1, Pl. Memo of Law, pp. 19-20.) Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ was required, but failed to consider the factors enumerated in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)[3] when rejecting Dr. Carlesi’s opinion.

         The ALJ gave “significant weight” to Dr. Carlesi’s opinion, with the exception of his “notations” that plaintiff is “disabled” or “totally disabled, ” to which he assigned no special significance. He explained:

Dr. Carlesi’s opinion is consistent with the record as a whole . . . and is given significant weight. The undersigned has considered notations in Dr. Carlesi’s records that, at first blush, appear to express an opinion that the claimant is disabled . . . . However, these notations are in the history and are based upon self-report not medical evidence. Moreover, to the extent that Dr. Carlesi opined that the claimant is disabled, that opinion is an assessment of the claimant’s disability which is an issue reserved to the Commissioner . . . and is not entitled to any special significance.

(R. 21.)

         The ALJ correctly concluded that Dr. Carlesi’s notations that plaintiff is disabled are not medical opinions.[4] See Westcott v. Colvin, No. 12-CV-4183 (FB), 2013 WL 5465609, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 1, 2013) (“[S]tatement[s] by a medical source that you are disabled or unable to work are not medical opinions.”) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, even if Dr. Carlesi had intended these notations to represent his opinion that plaintiff is disabled, [5] “[o]pinions on some issues, such as . . . . whether [plaintiff] meet[s] the statutory definition of disability, ” are “issues reserved to the Commissioner.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d). “No deference is owed to a physician’s statement that a claimant is ‘disabled, ’ because that determination is a legal conclusion, not a medical determination, reserved for the ALJ, the Commissioner, and the courts.” Serrano v. Astrue, No. 3:10-CV-468 (JCH), 2011 WL 1399465, at *10 (D. Conn. Apr. 12, 2011).

         Because Dr. Carlesi’s notations that plaintiff is “disabled” or “totally disabled” concern an issue reserved to the Commissioner and are not medical opinions, the ALJ properly determined that they are not entitled to any special significance, nor was he required to apply the factors set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c) when reaching his decision. See, e.g., Earl-Buck v. Barnhart,414 F.Supp.2d 288, 293 (W.D.N.Y. 2006) (“Because the opinions of [plaintiff’s treating and examining orthopedic surgeons] that plaintiff was ‘totally disabled’ are not ‘medical opinions’ under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(a)(2), the ALJ was not required to accord them any significant weight under the treating physician’s rule. ...


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