District Court Remands for Calculation

Empire Justice Center April 30, 2019

And the Treating Physician Rule is still alive in U.S. District Court. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Feldman of the Western District of New York remanded a claim under the rule for calculation of benefits. Fountaine v. Comm’r of Social Security, 18-cv-6033-JWF, 2019 WL 1428522 (W.D.N.Y. March 29, 2019).


Magistrate Feldman described this appeal as presenting:


…a troubling administrative determination involving an applicant who undeniably suffers from disabling mental illness. The deferential standard of review that this Court is required to apply in this proceeding does not require it to turn a blind eye to what is readily apparent from a fair reading of this record: Rosalyn Fountaine is disabled from competitive full-time employment.


He noted that virtually every medical report paid tribute to the severity of the plaintiff’s psychiatric issues. He detailed her extensive hospitalizations, suicide attempts, and treatment. He faulted the ALJ for giving “limited weight” to the only medical opinion of record from a treating source allegedly based on lack of treatment notes and “objective clinical findings.” He found these were not good reasons for declining to accord the treating psychologist’s opinion controlling weight under the regulations.


The ALJ found the plaintiff should be able to maintain work because she was able to participate in therapy while attending outpatient services, but Magistrate Feldman noted it was not true the plaintiff was regularly able to attend therapy. Nor would attendance at therapy mean she could cope with a full-time job. He also criticized the ALJ’s reliance on a single comment that the plaintiff felt “happy” or experienced some improvement as “an alarming misunderstanding of mental illness.” Magistrate Feldman cited several cases emphasizing the cyclical nature of mental illness. He also faulted the ALJ for assigning too much weight to the consultative examiner, noting the limited value of a one-time examination in this case of disabling mental illness.


Congratulations to Attorney Peter Gorton of Endicott for this great win.