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Crow v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

January 15, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


         Claimant, Jason Crow, commenced this action on May 23, 2018, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner, affirming the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), and thereby denying his claim for supplemental security income benefits.[1]

         The court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of review is limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the Commissioner, and, whether correct legal standards were applied. See Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Tieniber v. Heckler, 720 F.2d 1251, 1253 (11th Cir. 1983).

         Claimant contends that the Commissioner's decision is neither supported by substantial evidence nor in accordance with applicable legal standards because the ALJ improperly considered the medical opinions in the record. Upon review of the record, the court agrees that the ALJ improperly considered the opinion of claimant's treating physician and finds that the ALJ's decision should be reversed.

         The opinion of a treating physician “must be given substantial or considerable weight unless ‘good cause' is shown to the contrary.” Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240-41 (11th Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted). Good cause exists when “(1) [the] treating physician's opinion was not bolstered by the evidence; (2) [the] evidence supported a contrary finding; or (3) [the] treating physician's opinion was conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor's own medical records.” Id. (alterations supplied). Additionally, the ALJ is not required to accept a conclusory statement from a medical source, even a treating source, that a claimant is unable to work, because the decision whether a claimant is disabled is not a medical opinion, but is a decision “reserved to the Commissioner.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d).

         Social Security regulations also provide that, in considering what weight to give any medical opinion (regardless of whether it is from a treating or non-treating physician), the Commissioner should evaluate: the extent of the examining or treating relationship between the doctor and patient; whether the doctor's opinion can be supported by medical signs and laboratory findings; whether the opinion is consistent with the record as a whole; the doctor's specialization; and other factors. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c). See also Wheeler v. Heckler, 784 F.2d 1073, 1075 (11th Cir. 1986) (“The weight afforded a physician's conclusory statements depends upon the extent to which they are supported by clinical or laboratory findings and are consistent with other evidence as to claimant's impairments.”).

         Dr. Elizabeth Lachman, claimant's treating psychiatrist, provided an assessment on May 27, 2015, that focused upon claimant's “ability to return to safe occupational functioning.”[2] Her evaluation stated in part that:

Mr. Jason Scott Crow suffers with serious mental illnesses as noted above. Mr. Jason Scott Crow further suffers with physical impairments, eg [sic], chronic and severe pain in his right leg which has been broken twice, sciatica, and other physical symptoms which are worsened by his worsening mental symptoms. . . . His symptoms have worsened progressively to the point where the patient is non functional in his personal, social as well as occupational functions.
Mr. Jason Scott Crow is motivated to be productive in the community. The last time he was able to function safely in the work place for a meaningful length of time was in 2008. That was the year his father died and he quit his job. His mother died 2 years before that. These losses took a great toll on this young man's ability to maintain his already fragile stability in the workplace and he could no longer safely function in the occupational setting.
Since then, Mr. Jason Scott Crow has tried his hand at various odd jobs, but was never was [sic] able to maintain any work for more than a couple [of] months or so at a time before his mental symptoms would overcome his ability to function in the work place. Mr. Jason Scott Crow lacks the concentration, persistence and pace to safely function in the workplace. He would stand off to the side as he was too anxious and depressed to continue working or doing what he should. None of his attempts have ever amounted to any productive work which leaves the patient with severe and worsening depressed mood, despairing, despondent, with feelings of anhedonia, guilt, helplessness, and hopelessness. Mr. Jason Scott Crow already suffered with intrusive thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks of prior traumatic events, including head injuries and motorcycle and motor vehicle accidents, in his life where he felt sure that he would die. The patient was able to maintain fragile functioning in the workplace until his strongest support system began to crumble with the loss of both his parents two years apart, with his father, a former patient of ours, committing suicide.
Objective Rating Scales for Depression:
1. Zung: Self-Rating (<34) 85-55 2. Ruskin: (3nl: range 3-13) 9-12: Clinician rated: Measures severity: reported and observed: 5-point scale of three dimensions: verbal, displayed behavior, and secondary symptoms 3. Hamilton: (HAM-D): This patient has been consistently in the range of 65 to 70.
Mr. Jason Scott Crow is impaired because of his mental and emotional issues. These have led to clinically significant distress and impairment in personal, social, occupational and other important areas of function.
Mr. Jason Scott Crow suffers from chronic, lifetime illnesses. As a result of his mental illness, this patient is predisposed to a high safety risk in any occupational setting. Mr. Jason Scott Crow's psychiatric symptoms led to a marked, severe, and sometimes extreme degree of impairment in all areas related to occupational functioning. Mr. Jason Scott Crow is unable to work an eight hour day or even a four hour day.
He is unable to perform routine work. He is unable to work with colleagues appropriately and unable to take orders from supervisors. He is unable to follow even simple and certainly complex directions. He is unable to adapt to changes in the work routine or the work ...

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