Wages v. Commissioner of Social Security
An administrative law judge may be required to request clarification, if the judge finds that a treating doctor's severe restriction on the amount of weight that a patient can lift is not consistent with the patient's disability rating. The plaintiff, Pauline Wages, filed a request for Social Security disability benefits, alleging that she suffers from asthma, chronic pain syndrome, back pain and obesity. The defendant commissioner denied Wages' request. Wages moved to reverse and argued that the administrative law judge did not provide "controlling weight" to the opinion of Wages' treating doctor, Dr. Bash, who concluded that Wages could lift no more than five pounds, although he only rated Wages with a 10 percent disability. Wages argued that the administrative law judge wrongly relied on the opinions of other doctors, Dr. Bernstein and Dr. Golkar, who did not treat Wages. "The opinion of a treating physician is given controlling weight if it is well supported by medical findings and not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence," pursuant to Rosa v. Callahan, a 1999 decision of the 2nd Circuit. The District Court agreed with Wages that the opinions of Dr. Bernstein and Dr. Golkar were insufficient to outweigh the opinion of a treating doctor, who provided an opinion supported by explanation and treatment records. Dr. Bernstein and Dr. Golkar allegedly answered questions without furnishing support for their answers. To the extent that the administrative law judge did not credit Dr. Bash's conclusion that Wages could only lift 5 pounds, although she only had a 10 percent disability rating, the administrative law judge should have requested clarification, to resolve any ambiguity. The District Court remanded. On remand, the administrative law judge should consider Wages' "solid work history" and whether support exists for the vocational expert's claim that jobs exist in the national economy for individuals with similar restrictions.