United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING RE: MOTION TO REVERSE THE DECISION OF THE
COMMISSIONER (DOC. NO. 17) & MOTION TO AFFIRM THE
DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER (DOC. NO. 18)
C. Hall United States District Judge.
Joshua White (“White”) brings this appeal under
section 405(g) of title 42 of the United States Code from the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”), which denied his
application for Title II disability insurance benefits and
Title XVI supplemental security income. See
Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. No. 1). White seeks
either reversal or remand of the Decision rendered by
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Louis Bonsangue,
which affirmed the Commissioner's denial. See Mot.
to Reverse the Decision of the Comm'r (“Mot. to
Reverse”) (Doc. No. 17). The Commissioner cross-moves
for an order affirming that Decision. See Mot. to
Affirm the Decision of the Comm'r (“Mot. to
Affirm”) (Doc. No. 18).
reasons set forth below, the Motion to Reverse the Decision
of the Commissioner is GRANTED. The Motion
to Affirm the Decision of the Commissioner is
applied for disability and supplemental security income
benefits on March 31, 2015, alleging a disability onset date
of January 1, 2007. See R. at 20. The Commissioner
denied White's application initially on June 11, 2015,
and upon reconsideration on November 10, 2015. See
id. White requested a hearing with an ALJ, which was
held before ALJ Bonsangue on July 25, 2016. See id.
November 2, 2016, ALJ Bonsangue issued an unfavorable
decision for White, affirming the Commissioner's denial
and finding that White was not disabled. See id. at
36. Specifically, ALJ Bonsangue found that White's
impairments did not meet or equal any listing, see
id. at 23, and that, with his level of residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), there were jobs in
the national economy that he could perform, see id.
at 35- 36. White requested review by the Appeals Council,
which denied the request on July 18, 2017. See
Compl. at 1. Following that denial, ALJ Bonsangue's
November 2, 2016 Decision became a final decision reviewable
by this court. See id., Notice of Appeals Council
Action, at 2. White then filed this appeal on August 3, 2017.
court adopts the facts as stated in the parties' joint
Stipulation of Medical Facts (“Stipulation”)
(Doc. No. 17-2), and it will therefore only briefly describe
the facts relevant to this opinion.
was 31 at the time of his hearing in November 2016.
See R. at 400. The Record in this case begins in
December 2009, when White was voluntarily admitted to the
Institute of Living for suicidal ideation. See
Stipulation at 1. In April 2010, White was admitted for
inpatient treatment at St. Francis Hospital and, in June
2010, White was admitted to the Institute of Living. See
id. at 2-3. Both treatments were for mood and medication
stabilization and substance abuse issues. See id.
was incarcerated from July 19, 2010, to May 15, 2014. See
id. at 5. From March 2015, until the Record ends in
August 2016, Dr. Kent Sunderland treated White at Community
Health Center (“CHC”). See id. at 7, 15.
In addition to two treating source opinions from Dr.
Sunderland, the Record contains psychiatric evaluations from
consultative physicians who examined White, including Dr.
Craig Burns, Dr. April McLean, and Dr. Jaimie Burns. See
id. at 3-13. Two state agency psychologists, Dr.
Michelle Leveille and Dr. Susan Uber, reviewed the record and
prepared opinions regarding White's emotional
impairments. See id. at 11-13. Finally, state agency
medical consultant Dr. Angelina Jacobs prepared an opinion on
White's physical condition based on her review of the
Record. See id. at 14.
time since White applied for disability benefits in March
2015, he has been diagnosed with depression, bipolar
disorder, anxiety, and antisocial personality disorder.
See id. at 7-10, 15. Prior to March 2015, White had
also been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder,
schizoaffective disorder, alcohol and cocaine dependence, PCP
abuse, and intermittent explosive disorder. See id.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
section 405(g) of title 42 of the United States Code, it is
not a function of the district court to review de
novo the ALJ's decision as to whether the claimant
was disabled. See Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501
(2d Cir. 1998). Instead, the court may only set aside an
ALJ's determination as to social security disability if
the decision “is based upon legal error or is not
supported by substantial evidence.” Balsamo v.
Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998). Substantial
evidence requires “more than a mere scintilla, ”
but is a “very deferential standard of review.”
Brault v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 683 F.3d
443, 447-48 (2d Cir. 2012). It requires “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Id. at 448. If the
Commissioner's findings of fact are supported by
substantial evidence, those findings are conclusive, and the
court will not substitute its judgment for the
Commissioner's. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2016); see
also Yancey v. Apfel, 145 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 1998).
argues that ALJ Bonsangue's decision should be reversed
or remanded for five reasons. First, he argues that the ALJ
failed to properly apply the treating physician rule to the
April 2015 or September 2015 opinions of White's treating
physician, Dr. Kent Sunderland. See Mem. in Supp. of
Mot. to Reverse (“Pl.'s Mem.”) (Doc. No.
17-1) at 11-15. Second, White argues that the ALJ
“cherry-picked” the opinions of the consultative
examiners who examined White. See id. at 6-10.
Third, he argues that the ALJ's Decision was not
supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ improperly
substituted his own opinion and those of the non-examining
consultative examiners for the examining medical opinions.
See id. at 3-6, 15-17. Fourth, White argues that the
ALJ erred by crediting or discrediting medical opinions on
the basis of Global Assessment of Functioning
(“GAF”) scores. See id. at 17-20. Fifth,
he argues that the ALJ's RFC was not supported by
substantial evidence and failed to include all of White's
limitations. See id. at 20-24.
Treating Physician Rule
regulations give the opinions of treating physicians
“controlling weight, ” so long as those opinions
are “well-supported by medically acceptable clinical
and laboratory diagnostic techniques and [are] not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in . . .
[the] record.” 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(c)(2);see also Lesterhuis v. Colvin,
805 F.3d 83, 88 (2d Cir. 2015). In other words, “the
SSA recognizes a ‘treating physician' rule of
deference to the views of the physician who has engaged in
the primary treatment of the claimant.” Burgess v.
Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting
Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir.
2003)). “Even if the treating physician's opinion
is contradicted by other substantial evidence, and so is not
controlling, it may still be entitled to significant weight
‘because the treating source is inherently more
familiar with a claimant's medical condition than are
other sources.'” Tankisi v. Comm'r of
Social Sec., 521 Fed.Appx. 29, 33 (2d Cir. 2013)
(Summary Order) (quoting Schisler v. Bowen, 851 F.2d
43, 47 (2d Cir. 1988)). A treating physician opinion is
especially valuable “with respect to mental health