Mitchell v. Astrue
An administrative law judge is not required to obtain additional, contemporaneous treatment records from a treating doctor, if a plaintiff who purports to be disabled is represented by counsel, and counsel attends the hearing. The plaintiff filed a request for disability Social Security benefits, and the administrative law judge denied the request. Magistrate Judge Joan Margolis recommended that the District Court affirm the decision of the administrative law judge. The plaintiff objected, and argued that the administrative law judge failed to follow the "treating physician" rule with respect to the plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Levine. The record before the administrative law judge, wrote the District Court, failed to support the plaintiff's claim that the administrative law judge did not follow the "treating physician" rule. Dr. Levine opined on Nov. 30, 2009, two days before the hearing, that the plaintiff "has been totally incapacitated [and] disabled for yearsdefinitely prior to September 30, 1998." Apparently, contemporaneous treatment notes submitted to the administrative law judge did not discuss "serious" disabilities. Another medical expert, Dr. Hadi, concluded that "the severity of plaintiff's impairment as of September 1998 was not well documented and the contemporaneous records do not support Dr. Levine's 2009 assessment of the severity of plaintiff's impairment." Crediting Dr. Levine's 2009 opinion, which was written just before the hearing, wrote the District Court, would exalt form over substance. If Dr. Levine possessed other relevant records, plaintiff's counsel could have presented them. "The ALJ," wrote the court, "cannot be faulted for failing to press Dr. Levine or subpoena for such further treatment records as may have existed, for Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing and counsel could have obtained or sought them." The District Court accepted the magistrate's recommended ruling and affirmed the decision to deny disability benefits.