United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. MCCONNELL, JR., United States District Judge.
filed this action for judicial review of a final decision by
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
denying him Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. ECF
No. 1. Before the Court is Plaintiffs Motion to Reverse
and/or Remand for rehearing. ECF No. 9. Plaintiffs appeal
focuses on the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) decision
that he had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform
light work as defined in the regulations. He argues that the
ALJ failed to weigh properly the medical opinion evidence and
to evaluate Plaintiffs credibility. The Commissioner has
moved to affirm the decision. ECF No. 12.
Court finds that the ALJ's findings, specifically his
decision to disregard Plaintiffs treating physician's
opinion, were not supported by substantial evidence in the
record. The Court therefore grants Plaintiffs motion and
remands the case for reconsideration in light of this order.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
district court's role in reviewing the Commissioner's
decision is limited. "The findings of the Commissioner
of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive[.]". 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The determination of substantiality must be
made upon an evaluation of the record as a whole. The Court
"must uphold the Secretary's findings ... if a
reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a
whole, could accept it as adequate to support his
conclusion." Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981); see
also Ortiz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.,
955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991). The Supreme Court has
defined substantial evidence as "more than a mere
scintilla." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971). In reviewing the record, the Court must
avoid reinterpreting the evidence or otherwise substituting
its own judgment for that of the Secretary. See Colon v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 877 F.2d 148,
153 (1st Cir. 1989). The "resolution of conflicts in the
evidence is for the Secretary, not the courts."
Ortiz, 955 F.2d at 769 (citing Rodriguez,
647 F.2d at 222).
was forty-five years old on the date of the onset of his
disability. He went to school through the ninth grade and was
previously employed as a machine operator.
medical history includes diagnoses for degenerative disc of
the lumbar spine, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and high
cholesterol. Dr. Joyce Alves, his primary care family
physician, has taken care of Plaintiff during the entire
period of his disability and took charge of coordinating his
care with specialists when needed. Dr. Alves' treatment
notes consistently discuss that Plaintiff suffered from
chronic lower back pain, diabetes, and complications related
thereto. He occasionally reported feeling anxious and
depressed. He was taking multiple medications to address
these medical and mental health issues.
was let go from his job in February 2013; he could no longer
do the job because of the pain. From the records, it appears
that Plaintiffs care throughout 2013 was geared toward
controlling his diabetes with medication. Chronic back pain
is noted in his past medical history, ' he took a steady
dose of Percocet for this pain throughout the treatment
period. Dr. Alves frequently discussed exercise and healthy
eating to improve his health; Plaintiff occasionally complied
with this advice. He reported that he walked for exercise
during August of 2013, but the records show that he was
getting minimal or no exercise from September 2013 through
February 2014. In December 2013, Plaintiffs wife accompanied
him to his appointment and reported to Dr. Alves that he has
been irritable, is not sleeping, and is depressed. Dr. Alves
screened him and noted that he had severe depression. She
prescribed him an antidepressant and Elavil to help him
sleep. These symptoms improve in January 2014 as the Elavil
treatment notes for visits from November 15, 2013 through
February 13, 2014, Dr. Alves specifically noted that
Plaintiff was experiencing back tenderness when bending
forward, negative straight leg raising, spasms and congestion
over the paravertebral muscles in the low lumbar, high sacral
area. As of February 13, 2014, Plaintiff reported that he was
still looking for a job. In May 2014, Dr. Alves noted that
Plaintiff had pain throughout his spine, especially in the
thoracic and lumbar areas, moderate chronic congestion. That
same month, Dr. Alves noted that Plaintiff "was asked to
reconsider back surgery, or an evaluation at the pain clinic.
He is unable to live his life as he would like due to his
back." She also told him that losing weight was very
important to his overall health, but would also likely help
his back pain.
a May 19, 2014 follow-up visit to address blood work, Dr.
Alves noted that Plaintiffs weight was up. He told her that
he was not exercising and blamed his back for his weight gain
and inactivity. However, on June 4, 2014, Plaintiff reported
changes in his diet and exercise routine, ' he was eating
healthier and riding his bike every evening on the bike path.
He did note back pain while riding. On June 19, 2014, he saw
Dr. Alves to complete his disability papers! he told her that
he could not work due to his low back pain though a stable
dose of narcotics has adequately managed his pain over the
years. On examination, Dr. Alves noted congestion over the
L/S area, chronic in nature, no midline tenderness. Plaintiff
reported that he was exercising three to four times per week.
He requested a prescription for an antidepressant to address
the mental health issues he was experiencing again. On July
28, 2014, Plaintiff reported that he had numbness in both
Alves' opined in an Impairment Questionnaire on August
15, 2014 that, because of his lower back pain, Plaintiff
would be limited to sitting 1 hour and standing/walking 1
hour in an 8-hour workday. R. at 632. When sitting, he needed
to get up, move around every 30 minutes, and not sit again
for 5 to 10 minutes. Plaintiff could never lift or carry
anything more than 5 pounds. Dr. Alves opined that Plaintiffs
pain, fatigue, or other symptoms were "frequently"
severe enough to interfere with attention or concentration.
In addition, Plaintiff would miss work more than three times
a month. Dr. Alves stated that the above symptoms and
limitations were present since February 18, 2013 and were
expected to last for at least an additional twelve months.
September 17, 2014, he noted that he was experiencing a
recent worsening of his chronic low back pain and, at his
next visit, he reported that his pain was unchanged, still in
the L/S area across the back and occasionally down the left
leg such that he would like to try the pain clinic again. He
testified at the hearing that he was hesitant to get steroid
injections at the pain ...