Samuels v. Covin
While a medical opinion expressed on a check-box form is not necessarily entitled to great weight, to reach a contrary conclusion, an Administrative Law Judge needs to rely upon some other medical advice instead of substituting his own or her opinion for that of the treating doctor or engaging in sheer speculation. Wayne Samuels commenced this action under §205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§405(g) and §1383(c), as amended, against Carolyn Colvin, acting Commissioner of Social Security. Samuels applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Social Security Income benefits due to various impairments, including bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and migraines and sought review of the commissioner's final decision, denying supplemental security income benefits. Magistrate Judge Margolis recommended denying the plaintiff's motion for reversal or remand and granting the defendant's motion to affirm the commissioner's decision. The District Court adopted and approved the recommended ruling with modification and granted in part the plaintiff's request for a remand and denied the request for reversal. The defendant's motion was granted and denied, in part. The plaintiff argued, inter alia, that the recommended ruling failed to follow the treating physician rule. Specifically, the ALJ rejected Dr. Caruso's opinion, expressed by checking off a box on a form, that plaintiff's impairments and treatments would require his absence from work "[a]bout one day per a month" because the only choice for fewer absences was "[n]ever." The rejection was significant because the vocational expert testified that the maximum number of absences a month tolerated by employers is "usually no more than one every one and a half months" or "about eight times a year." The court concluded that the ALJ may have improperly rejected Dr. Caruso's medical opinion regarding absenteeism that would result from the plaintiff's continuing treatment needs. Without contrary medical evidence, the ALJ could not reject this otherwise controlling opinion on what turned out to be a dispositive issue. To the extent that the ALJ believed ambiguity existed in the record, he was required to seek clarification. The ALJ's conclusion was not based on substantial evidence. The matter was remanded for clarification of the record regarding absenteeism and its effect on the plaintiff's ability to work.