On March 3, 2014, the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee sitting at Knoxville overturned the Commissioner's decision to deny Social Security Disability benefits to Rhonda Jackson, one of the firm's clients. The case will be remanded back to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review for another hearing.
As noted by the court, Mrs. Jackson worked as a registered nurse from 1990 until 2005, and though she maintains her license as a registered nurse, this license is now in inactive status, and she has not worked since 2005. Mrs. Jackson alleges that she has been disabled since February 2005 due to chronic depression, lack of sleep, panic attacks, anxiety, and hand problems. She adds that she has trouble being around people and even leaving her house, noting that she is depressed as a result of various events that have occurred in her life. Mrs. Jackson testified that her inability to focus, forgetfulness, and pain are the worst of the medical maladies that have prevented her from returning to work.
Under the treating source rule, "the Commissioner has mandated that the ALJ 'will' give a treating source's opinion controlling weight if it 'is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [a claimant's] case record.'" Cole v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)). If, however, an ALJ decides not to give the opinion of a treating physician controlling weight, he or she must then apply the following factors in determining the weight to give the opinion: "the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination, the nature and extent of the treatment relationship, [the] supportability of the opinion, [the] consistency of the opinion with the record as a whole, and the specialization of the treating source." Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)).
Here, Dr. May and Dr. Bergia, both specialists, provided opinions indicating that plaintiff was suffering from medical conditions and related limitations which, if accepted, support a finding of disability. Indeed, this was the testimony of the vocational expert at the hearing [Tr. 55-57]. The Court finds that the ALJ erred by failing to adequately address, evaluate, and assign weight to these treating source opinions, and thus his opinion was not reached through application of the correct legal standards and in accordance with the procedure mandated by the regulations and rulings promulgated by the Commissioner.