Seekins v. Astrue
A claimant who suffers from a disability for less than one year may not qualify as "disabled" from a severe impairment, for purposes of Social Security disability benefits. Allegedly, the plaintiff, Linda Seekins, suffers from irritable bowel syndrome, Lyme Disease, migraine headaches and post traumatic stress disorder. An administrative law judge denied Seekins' request for Social Security disability benefits. The Decision Review Board affirmed, and Magistrate Judge Thomas Smith recommended that the District Court affirm. The District Court can reverse a ruling that a claimant is not disabled, if substantial evidence is not available to support the facts or the decision results from legal error. Seekins argued that the court should adopt a "fairly deferential," as opposed to a "substantial deference," standard of review. The court found that there was no legal error with respect to the standard of review and, even if there were legal error, it was harmless. Magistrate Judge Smith appropriately found that substantial evidence established that Seekins' irritable bowel syndrome lasted only four to five months, that Seekins tested negative for Lyme Disease, and that migraine headaches and PTSD did not prevent Seekins from performing basic work activities. The District Court adopted Smith's conclusion that the record failed to establish Seekins suffered a severe impairment. The opinion of a treating physician receives controlling weight, if well supported by the medical findings and not inconsistent with other substantial evidence. In Donato v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, a 1983 decision, the 2nd Circuit wrote, "[W]e have regarded a treating physician's diagnosis, to the extent it is uncontradicted, as binding." Disregard of the treating physician rule can constitute a basis for remand. Although Seekins argued that the administrative law judge did not explain why she rejected the opinion of a treating physician, Dr. Anandhi Pathman, Judge Smith found that the administrative law judge credited Dr. Pathman's opinion and also considered other doctor's opinions. The District Court's adopted Smith's recommended ruling and concluded that the administrative law judge correctly applied the treating physician's rule and that Seekins did not qualify as disabled, for purposes of Social Security disability benefits.