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, Robert Rozanski argues that the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) erred in (1) evaluating the medical
opinion evidence related to Mr. Rozanski's mental
impairments; and (2) failing to explain why he found that Mr.
Rozanski's testimony was not credible. He also asserts
that the Appeals Council failed to apply the appropriate
standard for considering new evidence. I agree with Mr.
Rozanski's first two arguments and remand the case to the
assume the parties' familiarity with Mr. Rozanski's
medical history (summarized in a stipulation of facts filed
by the parties, ECF No. 18, 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.
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). “The findings of the Commissioner
of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Accordingly, a district court may not make a
de novo determination of whether a plaintiff is disabled in
reviewing a denial of disability benefits. Wagner v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856,
860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the court's function is to
ascertain whether the correct legal principles were applied
in reaching the decision, and whether the decision is
supported by substantial evidence. Johnson v. Bowen,
817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987). If the Commissioner's
decision is supported by substantial evidence, that decision
will be sustained, even where there may also be substantial
evidence to support the plaintiff's contrary position.
Schauer v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 55, 57 (2d Cir.
1982). 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.
ALJ's Evaluation of the Medical Opinion Evidence
Rozanski argues that the ALJ improperly assigned
“little weight” to the opinions of his treating
psychiatrist and a physician's assistant while assigning
“great weight” to the opinion of a consulting
psychologist and “some weight” to non-examining
state agency consultants. I find that the ALJ failed to
adequately explain his reasoning for assigning “little
weight” to the opinion of Mr. Rozanski's treating
psychiatrist and that his conclusion was not supported by
substantial evidence in the record. I therefore remand on
that ground without reaching his other arguments as to
medical opinion evidence.
the treating physician rule, “the opinion of a
claimant's treating physician as to the nature and
severity of the impairment is given controlling weight 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) (internal citation and quotation marks
omitted). “The regulations further provide
that even if controlling weight is not given to the opinions
of the treating physician, the ALJ may still assign some
weight to those views, and must specifically explain the
weight that is actually given to the opinion.”
Schrack v. Astrue, 608 F.Supp.2d 297, 301 (D. Conn.
2009). The Second Circuit has required that:
[T]he 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.
After considering the above factors, the ALJ must
comprehensively set forth his reasons for the weight assigned
to a treating physician's opinion.
Greek v. Colvin, 802 F.3d 370, 375 (2d Cir. 2015)
(internal citations, quotation marks, and alterations
omitted). “The failure to provide good reasons for not
crediting the opinion of a claimant's treating physician
is a ground for remand.” Id. Nonetheless,
“slavish recitation of each and every factor [is not
required] where the ALJ's reasoning and adherence to the
regulation are clear.” Atwater v. Astrue, 512
Fed.Appx. 67, 70 (2d Cir. 2013).
Rozanski asserts that the ALJ erred by assigning
“little weight” to the opinion of Dr. Christopher
Yergen, his treating psychiatrist. Dr. Yergen completed two
Mental Health Impairment Questionnaires jointly with Mr.
Rozanski's therapist, Linda U McEwen, LCSW. R. 1495-99;
1506-10. On November 12, 2014, Dr. Yergen
opined that Mr. Rozanski had “[l]imited ability”
to “persist in simple activities without interruption
from psychological symptoms, ” to “handl[e]
frustration appropriately, ” or to “ask
questions or request assistance.” R. 1498-99. The
opinion explained that Mr. Rozanski's “depressed
mood and preoccupation with suicidal thoughts could impact
[his] attention and concentration and completion of
March 30, 2015, Dr. Yergen opined that Mr. Rozanski had
“[m]arked” limitations across a variety of
domains, including the ability to “[c]arry out detailed
instructions, ” “[s]ustain ordinary routine
without supervision, ” [c]omplete a workday without
interruptions from psychological symptoms, ” and
“[p]erform at a consistent pace without rest periods of
unreasonable length or frequency.” R. 1509. He
estimated that Mr. Rozanski's impairments would cause him
to be absent from work “[m]ore than three times per
month.” Id. A vocational expert testified that
an individual who was consistently out of work one or two
times per month “would probably not be
employable” in the national economy. R. 99.
assigned “little weight to Dr. Yergen's
opinion.” R. 43. He explained that the opinion was
“inconsistent with the overall evidence” because
“the claimant is generally intact cognitively and his
suicidal thoughts are attributable to his medication
noncompliance.” Id. Further, the ALJ explained
that Dr. Yergen's opinion was “inconsistent with
the claimant's level of daily activities, which involves
caring for himself, household chores and helping care for his
younger children.” Id. at 44. Finally, the ALJ