Relying on the treating physician regulations, U.S. District Court Judge David Larimer recently remanded a claim for calculation of benefits. According to Judge Larimer, had the opinions of the treating psychiatrists been properly accorded controlling weight, the claimant would be unable to meet the demands of any jobs per the testimony of the vocational witness at the hearing.
The court found the ALJ had erroneously rejected the opinions of the two psychiatrists based on her characterization that they used mere “check box” forms. To the contrary, the opinions were fully supported by narrative explanations. “[I]ndeed, the ‘check-box’ sections are accompanied by hand-written explanatory notes which fill the margins of the relevant pages, overflowing into a page-and-a-half attachment of single-spaced, typewritten notes expounding on the hand-written answers given on the form, and discussing plaintiff’s symptoms – their severity, frequency, and impact on her ability to perform specific functions – in detail.” Harbot v. Berryhill, 335 F. Supp. 3d 382, 386 (W.D.N.Y. 2018).
Judge Larimer further held that the ALJ made no attempt to apply the treating physician rule or discuss the relevant factors. The fact that one of the forms was co-signed by the psychiatrist did not justify according it less weight, since an opinion signed by a treating physician is presumed to be his opinion. The ALJ also made factual errors in considering the opinions. Finally, the ALJ’s “cavalier” dismissal of one of the psychiatrist’s letter on the basis of the ALJ’s unfounded suspicion the attorney had supplied “leading language” in requesting it was improper.
Congratulations to Nicole DeAnda of the Elmira office of LawNY and Kate Callery of the Empire Justice Center for this victory.