United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE AND
THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO AFFIRM THE DECISION OF THE
Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.
appeal from the Social Security Commissioner's denial of
benefits, Cheryl Sullivan argues that the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) (1) violated the treating physician
rule; (2) made unsupported findings at steps two and three of
the analysis of disability claims; (3) insufficiently
developed the record and misconstrued the evidence; (4) made
unsupported vocational findings; and (5) did not adequately
address Ms. Sullivan's claims of pain.
that the ALJ erred in several respects. First, the ALJ
improperly applied the treating physician rule to Dr.
Caminear's July 23, 2014 Physical Residual Function
Capacity Statement. Second, the ALJ did not adequately
develop the record as to the statement by the unknown doctor.
Third, the ALJ did not adequately address whether Ms.
Sullivan's neuropathy was a severe impairment at step two
and failed to consider whether that condition satisfied the
requirements of listing 11.14 at step three. Each identified
error is related to the ALJ's assessment of diabetic
neuropathy. I do not reach Ms. Sullivan's remaining
Procedural History, Facts, and Legal Standards
assume the parties' familiarity with Ms. Sullivan's
medical history (summarized in a stipulation of facts filed
by the parties, ECF No. 24-1, which I adopt and incorporate
herein by reference), the ALJ's opinion, the record, and
the five sequential steps used in the analysis of disability
claims. I cite only those portions of the record and the
legal standards necessary to explain this ruling.
Standard of Review
district court reviewing a final . . . decision pursuant to .
. . 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), is performing an appellate
function.” Zambrana v. Califano, 651 F.2d 842,
844 (2d Cir. 1981). As such, the Commissioner's decision
“may be set aside only due to legal error or if it is
not supported by substantial evidence.” Crossman v.
Astrue, 783 F.Supp.2d 300, 302-03 (D. Conn. 2010). The
Second Circuit has defined substantial evidence as
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988)
(citation and quotation marks omitted). Substantial evidence
must be “more than a mere scintilla or a touch of proof
here and there in the record.” Id.
Treating Physician Rule
Sullivan argues that the ALJ failed to assign controlling
weight to the opinions of Dr. Caminear in violation of the
treating physician rule. ECF No. 24-2 at 1-7. This rule
generally requires “deference to the medical views of a
physician who is engaged in the primary treatment of a
claimant.” Greek v. Colvin, 802 F.3d 370, 375
(2d Cir. 2015). More specifically, an ALJ must ascribe
controlling weight to a treating physician's opinion
“so long as it ‘is well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and
is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in
[the] case record.'” Burgess v. Astrue,
537 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(2)). If, however, “the treating physician
issued opinions that are not consistent with other
substantial evidence in the record, ” then the ALJ may
give them less than controlling weight. Halloran v.
Barnhart, 362 F.3d 28, 32 (2d Cir. 2004) (per curium).
“To override the opinion of the treating physician, we
have held that the ALJ must explicitly consider, inter alia,
(1) the frequency, length, nature, and extent of treatment;
(2) the amount of medical evidence supporting the opinion;
(3) the consistency of the opinion with the remaining medical
evidence; and, (4) whether the physician is a
specialist.” Greek, 802 F.3d at 375 (internal quotation
marks, citations, and alterations omitted). “After
considering the above factors, the ALJ must comprehensively
set forth his reasons for the weight assigned to a treating
physician's opinion. The failure to provide good reasons
for not crediting the opinion of a claimant's treating
physician is a ground for remand.” Ibid. (internal
quotation marks, citations, and alterations omitted).
Caminear had been treating Ms. Sullivan for nearly a decade
before she filed her claim. ECF No. 24-1 at 2-16. Ms.
Sullivan argues that the ALJ erred by giving “great
weight” to his October 30, 2013 letter and
“partial weight” to his July 23, 2014 statement
instead of assigning controlling weight to both opinions. ECF
No. 24-2 at 1-7. Because I find that the ALJ erred in his
application of the rule to the July 23, 2014 statement, I
remand on that basis and do not address the October 30, 2013
23, 2014 Physical Residual Function Capacity Statement
Sullivan argues that the ALJ erred in ascribing
“partial weight” to Dr. Caminear's Physical
Residual Function Capacity Statement of July 23, 2014, in
which Dr. Caminear opined, inter alia, that Ms. Sullivan has
“diabetic neuropathy [in] both feet daily, ”
“loss of protective senses, ” a “history of
ulcers and amputation, ” and trouble with balance;
requires a scooter while ambulating; can occasionally lift
less than five pounds; can stand and walk for less than one
hour in an eight hour work day; and has “standing and
walking limitations” that would prevent her from
obtaining and retaining work in a competitive work
environment for eight hours per day, five days a week. R.
deciding how much weight to accord this statement, the ALJ
was required to consider the four Greek factors. The first
Greek factor requires an ALJ to consider the
“frequency, length, nature, and extent of
treatment” while the fourth requires an inquiry into
“whether the physician is a specialist.” Greek,
802 F.3d at 375. The ALJ properly considered both factors,
noting that Dr. Caminear “specializes in podiatric
surgery and foot and ankle surgery and has a long treatment
history with the claimant.” ECF No. 16-5 at 107. These
factors, though, counsel in favor of ascribing greater weight
to Dr. Caminear's opinion. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(2)(i) (“Generally, the longer a treating
source has treated you and the more times you have been seen
by a treating source, the more weight we will ...