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Rodgers v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 17, 2016



          Janet C. Hall United States District Judge


         Plaintiff Michael Wayne Rodgers (“Rodgers”) filed this administrative appeal pursuant to section 405(g) of title 42 of the United States Code.[1] 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).

         The 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 Rodgers’s psychiatrist.

         For the 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.

         II. FACTS[2]

         Rodgers 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, 660.

         Rodgers 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.

         Beginning in late 2011, Rodgers received addiction and mental health treatment at Natchaug Hospital’s Care Plus program (“Care Plus”).[3] 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. at 239.

         In 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.

         On June 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.


         A. Initial Applications

         On May 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.[4] See id. at 259-61. On February 28, 2013, Rodgers filed a hearing request. See id. at 9.

         B. Treating Psychiatrist Opinion

         In July 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.

         C. ALJ Hearing

         On 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.

         D. ALJ Decision

         On 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.[5] 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.

         At step 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 17.

         The ALJ 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 ...

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