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Mardoian v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 11, 2016

BRYAN ANTON MARDOIAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Bryan Anton Mardoian, Plaintiff, represented by Charles E. Binder, Law Offices of Harry J. Binder & Charles E. Binder, P.C..

          Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant, represented by Molly E. Carter, Social Security Administration-General Counsel & Jason W.Valencia, Social Security Administration-General Counsel.

          RECOMMENDED RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS

          DONNA F. MARTINEZ, Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Bryan Anton Mardoian, seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB").[1] An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing on October 17, 2011, and determined that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.[2] Plaintiff timely appealed to this court.

         Currently pending are plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (doc. #12) and defendant's motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner. (Doc. #17.) On August 3, 2015, pursuant to the court's order, counsel filed a joint stipulation of facts and medical chronology, which I incorporate by reference. (Doc. #20.) For the following reasons, I recommend that plaintiff's motion be GRANTED and defendant's motion be DENIED.

         I. Legal Standard

         The standards for determining an individual's entitlement to DIB, the Commissioner's five-step framework for evaluating 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 argues that the ALJ failed to follow the treating physician rule by assigning less than controlling weight to the opinion of his primary care physician, Dr. Leon Rapko. He also argues that the ALJ should have given greater weight to the opinion of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Balazs Somogyi than to the opinions of the non-examining state agency physicians. Defendant responds that substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision can be found in the non-examining state agency physician reports.

         A. Dr. Rapko

         Under the "treating physician rule, " a treating physician's opinion is accorded controlling weight when it 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). 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."); Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 96-2p, 1996 WL 374188, at *5 (July 2, 1996) (ALJ's decision "must contain specific reasons for the weight given to the treating source's medical opinion, supported by the evidence in the case record, and must be sufficiently specific to make clear to any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the treating source's medical opinion and the reasons for that weight.").

         If controlling weight is not given to a treating source's opinion, the ALJ must consider certain factors in determining the weight to be assigned. Those factors include: (1) the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination; (2) the nature and extent of the treatment relationship; (3) the supportability of the opinion; (4) the opinion's consistency with the record; (5) the treating physician's specialization, if any; and (6) other factors brought to the ALJ's attention. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2); see also Greek v. Colvin, No. 14-3799, 2015 WL 5515261, at *3 (2d Cir. Sep. 21, 2015) ("[T]o override the opinion of the treating physician, we have held that the ALJ must explicitly consider" these factors).

         Here, the ALJ did not assign controlling weight to Dr. Rapko's opinion.[3] Describing it as "conclusory and against the weight of the record as a whole, " she explained:

[t]he conclusions reached are not supported anywhere in the medical evidence record by medically acceptable signs, symptoms, and/or laboratory findings. A review of the exhibit file fails to identify any subjective or objective medical findings supporting the conclusion that the claimant is limited to less than sedentary work. As such, these findings are not accorded the controlling weigh[t] usually given to treating source opinion[s] regarding residual functional capacity. Nonetheless, these observations and findings are not ignored ...

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