United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING RE: CROSS MOTIONS TO REVERSE (DOC. NO. 22) AND
AFFIRM (DOC. NO. 23) THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF
C. Hall United States District Judge
Michael Wayne Rodgers (“Rodgers”) filed this
administrative appeal pursuant to section 405(g) of title 42
of the United States Code. See Complaint
(“Compl.”) (Doc. No. 1) at 1. Rodgers seeks an
Order reversing the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security, defendant Carolyn W. Colvin
(“Colvin”), which denied Rodgers’s
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) benefits for an alleged disability that
began in 2011. See Plaintiff’s Memorandum of
Law (“Pl.’s Mem.”) (Doc. No. 22-1) at 1.
Colvin has filed a cross-Motion in which she asks the court
to affirm that final decision. See Defendant’s
Motion for Order Affirming Decision of Commissioner
(“Mot. to Affirm”) (Doc. No. 23).
first issue presented is whether the Administrative Law
Judge, ALJ Tanya J. Garrian (“ALJ Garrian”),
properly developed the administrative record
(“Record”) with respect to Rodgers’s mental
and psychological difficulties. The second issue presented is
whether ALJ Garrian afforded proper weight to the opinion of
reasons that follow, the court GRANTS Rodgers’s Motion
to Reverse (Doc. No. 22), DENIES Colvin’s Motion to
Affirm (Doc. No. 23), and REMANDS this case to the agency for
proceedings consistent with this Ruling.
was born in 1970. See Certified Transcript of the
Record (“Tr.”) (Docs. No. 12-3 through 12-9) at
18. In school, Rodgers received special education services
because of learning disabilities and Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”). See Id.
at 1001. He has worked in various careers throughout his
life. See Id. at 212. He has also suffered serious
physical ailments. See, e.g., id. at. 383,
reported that he received a bipolar disorder diagnosis in his
twenties. See id. at 1010. Rodgers also reported
that he received treatment for depression. See id.
at 566. In 2009, Rodgers visited Dr. Syed Gilani, M.D.
(“Dr. Gilani”) with problems including anxiety,
which medication was helping him manage. See id. at
846. In 2010, Dr. Gilani renewed Rodgers’s anxiety
medication. See Id. at 830-31. In November 2011,
Rodgers reported anxiety and racing thoughts on a
psychological evaluation. See id. at 566. He
received a Global Assessment of Functioning
(“GAF”) score of 58. See id. at 566.
Rodgers was prescribed depression and anxiety medication.
See id. at 994.
in late 2011, Rodgers received addiction and mental health
treatment at Natchaug Hospital’s Care Plus program
(“Care Plus”). See id. at 260-61. Care Plus
medical records are not in the Record. See
Plaintiff’s Proposed Stipulation of Facts
(“Stipulation”) (Doc. No. 22-2) at 6. In 2012, a
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) worker
generated a report on Rodgers that showed trouble answering
questions, concentrating, and sitting still. See Tr.
early 2013, Rodgers was homeless and sometimes stayed with
his mother. Id. at 248. At this point, Rodgers
reported having bipolar disorder, depression, and Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”). Id.
at 255. Rodgers wrote that he had trouble focusing and
remembering his medicine. See id. at 249. Rodgers
also reported difficulty socializing, see id. at
253; understanding instructions, see id. at 254; and
adapting to changes, see id. at 254. Rodgers was
attending regular Care Plus meetings to maintain sobriety.
Id. at 253. In March 2013, Rodgers began treatment
at the Community Mental Health Affiliates. See id.
at 1031. Rodgers reported a history of bipolar disorder and
depression. See id. at 1031. A May 2013 examination
indicated Rodgers had impaired attention and concentration.
See id. at 1012. On June 4, 2013, Rodgers reported
feeling somewhat better. See id. at 1083.
18, 2013, psychiatrist Dr. Margaret Chaplin, M.D. (“Dr.
Chaplin”) evaluated Rodgers for the first time. See
id. at 1073. The Record contains Rodgers’s
treatment records from Dr. Chaplin, continuing to May 22,
2014. See id. at 331. Medical records from the time
Rodgers spent under Dr. Chaplin’s care indicate memory
difficulties, see id. at 1142; trouble
concentrating, see, e.g., id. at 1135,
1142; racing thoughts, see id. at 1057; anger,
see id. at 1071, 1165; mood swings, see,
e.g., id. at 1057, 1169; depression, see
id. at 322, 1165; anxiety and panic attacks, see,
e.g, id. at 1142, 1146-47; flashbacks, see id.
at 283, 331; and daytime sedation, see id. at 1045.
The medical records also indicate that, on some occasions,
Rodgers seemed to improve with regard to one or another of
his symptoms. See, e.g., id at 1135, 1165.
While under Dr. Chaplin’s care, Rodgers received GAF
scores of 48, see id. at 1060; and 45, see
id. at 1153.
15, 2012, Rodgers filed DIB and SSI applications for an
alleged disability that began on March 1, 2011. Id.
at 9. On September 28, 2012, the SSA denied his claims.
See id. at 9. On January 15, 2013, the SSA denied
his reconsideration request. See id. at 9. In
February or March 2013, Rodgers submitted an SSA
“Disability Report: Appeal” form, which noted
that he had been receiving mental health treatment at Care
Plus since 2011. See id. at 259-61. On February
28, 2013, Rodgers filed a hearing request. See id.
Treating Psychiatrist Opinion
2014, Dr. Chaplin submitted a Mental Medical Source Statement
of Ability to do Work-Related Activities (“Dr. Chaplin
Opinion”). See id. at 1279-1283. Dr. Chaplin
noted that Rodgers had “marked” limitations in
his abilities to understand, remember, follow simple
instructions, and make simple judgments. See id. at
1279. She noted that Rodgers has trouble retaining
information, remembering appointments, and staying on task.
See id. at 1279. Dr. Chaplin also noted
“marked” social difficulties, and
“constant” problems with concentration,
persistence or pace. See id. at 1280. Dr. Chaplin
wrote that Rodgers is “too impaired to work, ”
even on good days. See id. at 1282.
August 7, 2014, Rodgers appeared with counsel for a hearing
before ALJ Garrian. See Tr. at 26, 29. At the
hearing, the ALJ asked a vocational expert, Larry Takki
(“Takki”), to assume that an individual could
perform work at a medium level, as long as the work fell
within certain physical constraints, which the ALJ described,
and involved only “simple, routine, repetitive”
tasks with only “occasional superficial contact with
the public, coworkers, and supervisors.” Id.
at 59. Takki stated that such an individual could not perform
any of Rodgers’s past work. Id. at 59. Takki
stated, however, that other work exists for such an
individual, and he detailed such work. Id. at 59-60.
The ALJ then asked the vocational expert whether work would
exist for an individual with the limitations the ALJ had just
described, if the individual also had
“moderately-severe limitations in the ability to
respond appropriately to customary work pressures and to
maintain appropriate persistence and pace.”
Id. at 60. Takki stated that such additional
limitations “would preclude all work.”
Id. at 60.
August 29, 2014, ALJ Garrian issued a decision denying
benefits. See id. at 9, 19. ALJ Garrian applied the
SSA’s five-step disability analysis. See id.
at 10-13. At step one, ALJ Garrian found that Rodgers had not
performed substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date. See id. at 11. At step two, ALJ Garrian
found that Rodgers had “severe impairments, ”
including physical problems and bipolar disorder. See
id. at 11. At step three, the ALJ found that
Rodgers’s impairments did not equal any on the SSA
Listing of Impairments. See id. at 12.
four, ALJ Garrian found that Rodgers had “the residual
functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except”
that Rodgers should perform only work meeting certain
physical constraints which the ALJ described, should do only
“simple, routine, repetitive” tasks, and should
have only “occasional, superficial contact with the
public, co-workers, and supervisors.” Id. at
13. Part of the ALJ’s residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) determination rested on her finding that
Rodgers was not credible, id. at 14; and her
conclusion that Rodgers suffered from at most a
“moderate” mental limitation, id. at 17.
ALJ Garrian stated:
In terms of the claimant’s alleged mental impairments,
the objective medical evidence and the claimant’s
treatment history do not support his allegations of disabling
symptoms. Despite the claimant’s allegations of
flashbacks, difficulty concentrating, emotional difficulties,
and an inability to maintain tasks, the claimant’s
treatment records actually show that he responded quite well
to mental health treatment. Prior to early 2013, the claimant
engaged in very little documented mental health treatment.
The claimant complained of depression and anxiety in November
2011, with his treating provider assigning him a [GAF] score
of 58. However, this examination also noted no problems with
attention, concentration or memory despite his subjective
complaints. After November 2011, the claimant does not engage
in any significant mental health treatment until early 2013.
Between early 2013 and mid-2014, the claimant’s GAF
scores do decrease from 52 to 48; however, the
claimant’s treatment notes actually indicate an
improvement in his symptoms during this period. In May 2013,
the claimant’s mental status examination outlined
impaired concentration and attention but by July the claimant
reported that his medication worked well to control his
symptoms. The claimant reported an increase in his symptoms,
including reduced concentration and increased anxiety, in
September 2013. However, this increase in his symptoms
appeared to be related to his relationship with his new
girlfriend. Between October and December 2013, the claimant
reported feeling good with medication managing his moods.
Id. at 15-16 (citations omitted). The ALJ found that
Rodgers had at most moderate difficulties in daily living,
social functioning, and concentration, persistence, and pace;
and had not had any extended periods of decompensation.
Id. at 16-17. ALJ Garrian found little support for
the allegation that Rodgers suffers flashbacks, visual
hallucinations, and emotional difficulties. Id. at
found that Rodgers’s treatment records provided
“little support” for the Dr. Chaplin Opinion.
Id. at 16. ALJ Garrian stated that Dr.
Chaplin’s description of marked social problems and
constant concentration, persistence, and pace difficulties
was “not supported by the overall weight of the
evidence of the record, which shows improvement in the