United States District Court, D. Delaware
HONORABLE MARYELLEN NOREIKA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
United States Magistrate Judge Sherry R. Fallon issued a
20-page Report and Recommendation (“R&R”)
(D.I. 15), dated February 4, 2019, recommending that
Plaintiff Brian Keith Sammons' (“Plaintiff”
or “Sammons”) motion for summary judgment (D.I.
8) be denied and that Defendant's cross motion for
summary judgment (D.I. 11) be granted;
on February 13, 2019, Plaintiff timely objected to the
R&R (D.I. 16);
on March 4, 2019, Defendant responded to Plaintiff's
objections (D.I. 17) incorporating by reference “the
reasoning set forth in Magistrate Judge Fallon's
well-reasoned [R&R], as well as the arguments set forth
in the Commissioner's brief [D.I. 12]”;
the Court has considered the motions de novo, see Brown
v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011); 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3), and has further
reviewed the pertinent filings;
Plaintiff objects to the R&R findings that (1) the ALJ
properly weighed the medical opinion evidence of record and
properly determined Mr. Sammons' residual functional
capacity; (2) the ALJ properly evaluated Mr. Sammons'
testimony; and (3) the ALJ relied on an appropriate
hypothetical question to the vocational expert. The Court
will address each objection in turn.
THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED this 8th day of March 2019
that: For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's
objections (D.I. 16) are OVERRULED. Judge Fallon's
R&R (D.I. 15) is ADOPTED. Plaintiff's motion for
summary judgment (D.I. 8) is DENIED and Defendant's cross
motion for summary judgment (D.I. 11) is GRANTED. The Clerk
of Court is directed to CLOSE this case.
Weighing of Medical Opinion Evidence To Determine Residual
argues that the ALJ improperly gave “little
weight” to the opinion of Dr. Foy, who had treated
Sammons, and failed to identify the “allegedly
‘objective' findings in the notes that purportedly
conflict with Dr. Foy's opinion.” (D.I. 16 at 3).
In order to determine the proper weight to give a medical
opinion, the ALJ must weigh all evidence and resolve any
material conflicts. See Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 399, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). It is
not for this Court to reweigh the medical opinions in the
record. See Monsour Medical Center v. Heckler, 806
F.2d 1185, 1190 (3d Cir.1986). Instead, the Court's
review is limited to determining if there is substantial
evidence to support the ALJ's weighing of those opinions.
Third Circuit subscribes to the “treating physician
doctrine.” Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058,
1067 (3d Cir.1993); see also 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(d)(2). “Under that doctrine, a court
considering a claim for disability benefits must give greater
weight to the findings of a treating physician than to the
findings of a physician who has examined the claimant only
once or not at all.” Mason, 994 F.2d at 1067.
A treating physician's opinion is therefore accorded
“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 [the claimant's] case
record.” Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34,
42 (3d Cir.2001); see also Dass v. Barnhart, 386
F.Supp.2d 568, 576 (D. Del. 2005) (“A cardinal
principle guiding disability eligibility determinations is
that the ALJ accord treating physicians' reports great
weight, especially when their opinions reflect expert
judgment based on a continuing observation of the
patient's condition over a prolonged period of
time.”) (internal quotations omitted). Thus, an ALJ may
reject a treating physician's opinion “only on the
basis of contradictory medical evidence.” Morales
v. Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 318 (3d Cir.2000) (internal
quotation marks omitted). It follows that an ALJ cannot
reject a treating physician's opinion “for no
reason or for the wrong reason.” Id. at 317.
the ALJ explained her reasons for affording less weight to
Dr. Foy's opinion. She noted that it was not well
supported by objective findings and was inconsistent with
other substantial medical evidence, including Dr. Foy's
own treatment notes. (Tr. 16-17; D.I. 15 at 14). The ALJ
noted that examinations showed full muscle strength and full
range of motion (Tr. 16, 291). Progress notes from Dr. Foy
repeatedly recommended that Plaintiff increase,
rather than restrict, his physical activity to treat his
fibromyalgia. (Tr. 388, 393, 407, 414, 417, 420). Consistent
with this, Plaintiff noted that aquatic therapy helped and
provided him with more energy. (Tr. 403). Aside from a slow
gait and tender points, Dr. Foy's notes do not document
decreased strength or muscle atrophy. (Tr. 390-91, 399, 404,
407, 410, 413, 417, 420, 424).
addition, the ALJ found that Dr. Foy had treated Sammons only
a few times over the course of ten months. (Tr. 17). Dr.
Foy's “opinion” was a completed RFC
Questionnaire and her notes from Sammons' appointments.
(Tr. 334-425) As the R&R correctly noted, “[t]he
District of Delaware has found completed RFC Questionnaires
are medical opinions when supported by ‘years of
medical assessments, reports, notes, and other
documentation.' [Griffies v. Astrue, 855
F.Supp.2d 257, 269 (D. Del. 2012)] (finding the claimant had
fibromyalgia and received continuous treatment from two
different doctors for six and five years, respectively). The
facts of the present case are dissimilar to Griffies
because Dr. Foy had only treated Sammons every one to three
months during a ten-month period when completing her medical
opinion. (Tr. at 17).” (D.I. 15 at 14).
this backdrop, the ALJ cited evidence and her conclusion
enjoys the support of substantial evidence. The R&R
reasonably found that the ALJ was not bound by an opinion
that appeared largely to be based on subjective complaints.
(D.I. 15 at 15).
Evaluation of ...