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Shirley v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

March 31, 2017

Leslie Ann Shirley Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          ORDER

          MICHAEL R. BARRETT, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court upon the Magistrate Judge's November 3, 2016, Report and Recommendation ("R&R") which recommends that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed and this matter be closed on the docket of the Court. (Doc. 22).

         Notice was given to the parties under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c). Plaintiff filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's R&R. (Doc. 23).

         When objections are received to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation on a dispositive matter, the district judge “must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). After review, the district judge “may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Id.; see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         The Magistrate Judge completed a comprehensive review of the record and the same will not be repeated here except as necessary to respond to Plaintiff's objections.

         A. Dr. Murthy

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by assigning limited weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Murthy. The Magistrate Judge addressed this same argument in great detail and the Court finds no error in the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that the ALJ properly interpreted Dr. Murthy's opinion.

         As the Sixth Circuit has explained:

In assessing the medical evidence supplied in support of a claim, there are certain governing standards to which an ALJ must adhere. Key among these is that greater deference is generally given to the opinions of treating physicians than to those of non-treating physicians, commonly known as the treating physician rule. See Soc. Sec. Rul. 96-2p, 1996 WL 374188 (July 2, 1996); Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004). Because treating physicians are “the medical professionals most able to provide a detailed, longitudinal picture of [a claimant's] medical impairment(s) and may bring a unique perspective to the medical evidence that cannot be obtained from the objective medical findings alone, ” their opinions are generally accorded more weight than those of non-treating physicians. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d)(2). Therefore, if the opinion of the treating physician as to the nature and severity of a claimant's conditions is “well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in [the] case record, ” then it will be accorded controlling weight. Wilson, 378 F.3d at 544. When the treating physician's opinion is not controlling, the ALJ, in determining how much weight is appropriate, must consider a host of factors, including the length, frequency, nature, and extent of the treatment relationship; the supportability and consistency of the physician's conclusions; the specialization of the physician; and any other relevant factors. Id.

Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 242 (6th Cir. 2007) (footnote omitted).

         Here, the ALJ found that Dr. Murthy's opinion was not well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and was inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record. The ALJ made this finding, in part, because Dr. Murthy only saw Plaintiff one time before her date last insured (“DLI”). (Tr. 37). There was only one progress note that predated Plaintiff's DLI and that note did not support the work-related limitations contained in Dr. Murthy's opinion. (Id.). Of significance, Dr. Murthy did not state the limitations were in effect prior to Plaintiff's DLI. To obtain disability benefits, Plaintiff must establish that the “onset of disability” was prior to the date his insurance status expired, or the DLI. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a), (c), (d)(1)(A); See Smilh v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec., 202 F.3d 270 (6th Cir.1999) (citing Moon v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175, 1182 (6th Cir. 1990); Higgs v. Bowen, 880 F.2d 860, 862 (6th Cir. 1988)).

         Plaintiff takes issue with the ALJ's finding that Dr. Murthy's treatment notes are brief and do not support the limitations he gives. Plaintiff specifically argues the second questionnaire completed by Dr. Murthy-over a year later-is entirely consistent with the first questionnaire. The ALJ, however, properly noted that Dr. Murthy's September 2013 opinion also failed to indicate whether the limitations were present before Plaintiff's DLI. Indeed, whether the limitations were in effect prior to the DLI was a question on the form, but was not answered by Dr. Murthy. (Tr. 37).

         The ALJ also discounted Dr. Murthy's opinion because he did not cite any support for his opinions. In response, Plaintiff points the testimony of Dr. Rogers who averred that “no mental health person writes down everything they hear.” (Tr. 96). While this is most certainly accurate, the brief notes Dr. Murthy did choose to write down do not support the limitations he recommends. For example, in June 2012, Dr. Murthy noted that Plaintiff was “good with help of meds.” (Tr. 513). In July 2012, Dr. Murthy noted that Plaintiff's medications were helping and she did not have any suicidal or homicidal thoughts. (Tr. 514). Accordingly, Plaintiff's argument in this regard is unpersuasive. Considering all of the above, the ALJ properly concluded that Dr. Murthy's opinion was not entitled to controlling weight.

         Then, in coming to the conclusion that Dr. Murthy's opinion should be given “little weight, ” the ALJ considered, among other things, the length and frequency of Dr. Murthy's treatment relationship prior to Plaintiff's DLI, as well as the consistency of Dr. Murthy's opinion with the record as a whole. As the Magistrate Judge explained, “[t]he ALJ is not bound by conclusory statements of doctors, particularly where they are unsupported by detailed objective criteria and documentation.” See Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 773 (6th Cir. 2001). Upon review, the undersigned agrees with the Magistrate Judge that the ALJ ...


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