Mary A. v. Kijakazi, Case. No. 0:22-cv-00377-PJG (D.S.C. Mar. 31, 2023) (Decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett, by consent)

Mary A. v. Kijakazi, Case. No. 0:22-cv-00377-PJG (D.S.C. Mar. 31, 2023) (Decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett, by consent)

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Briefs for purchase:

  • Plaintiff’s Brief

  • Plaintiff’s Reply Brief and court decision. 

Issues Briefed:

  1. 1)  The ALJ reversibly erred by again improperly weighing the medical opinion

    evidence of Dr. Waid, an examining psychologist.

  2. 2)  The ALJ committed reversible error in again relying on an outdated GAF score of 53.

  3. 3)  The ALJ again reversibly erred by failing to properly assess Plaintiff’s subjective complaints.

  4. 4)  The Commissioner again failed to sustain her burden of establishing that there is other work in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform.

  5. 5)  This Court should remand with instructions to award benefits.

Court decision:
The court agreed that the ALJ failed to comply with the directives of the court as well as the Appeals Council on two prior remands and found that the evaluation of the examining psychologist’s opinions as unpersuasive is again unsupported by substantial evidence.
Slip op. at 8. The ALJ erred in finding the opinions were on issues reserved to the Commissioner as it is error for an ALJ to take a single statement of disability or inability to work that is a minor portion of an opinion and “extend ‘little weight’ to the entire opinion on this ground.” (emphasis in original) (citation omitted). Id. at 8-9. The opinions at issue did not simply indicate that claimant was unable to work, but contained specific functional limitations as well. Id. at 8.

Further, the ALJ misstated the actual diagnoses of this psychologist who provided support for his assessment of Unspecified Dissociative Disorder — “an assessment that the ALJ failed to acknowledge.” Id. at 9-10. The psychologist completed specialized tests and reviewed claimant’s medical and treatment history in forming his opinions, all of which weigh in favor of crediting them. Id. at 10-11. However, “the ALJ simply continues to assert that issues of disability are reserved to the Commissioner and to offer specious inconsistencies for discounting his opinions without considering the applicable factors” for evaluating medical opinions. Id. at 11. Additionally, on remand the ALJ was specifically directed to consider the fact that the psychologist found claimant met the requirements of Listing 12.08, and while the ALJ added a few sentences to the prior decision’s analysis summarizing his findings, she offers no additional explanation as to why his findings were not supported or inconsistent with the record. Id.

The court also found the ALJ erred in again affording significant weight to a GAF score from prior to claimant’s onset date and the error was not harmless. Id. at 11-12. The court reiterated from its prior remand order that a GAF score is only a snapshot in time and is not indicative of long term level of functioning and that the fifth

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edition of the DSM, published in 2013, has discontinued use of the GAF. Id. at 12.

Additionally, the analysis of claimant’s subjective complaints was found deficient, since the ALJ did not explain which of her alleged symptoms were unsupported by the evidence, and there is no indication the ALJ applied all the relevant factors the Commissioner is required to consider under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(3) in evaluating subjective complaints. Id. The ALJ failed to acknowledge the claimant’s significant qualifying statements regarding her activities of daily living and further, the ALJ’s discussion suggesting that claimant drove on a limited basis is not a sufficient reason standing alone to find functioning at a level exceeding that alleged by claimant. Id. at 13.

The court noted that the disability application was filed almost nine years ago and that despite two remands with specific instructions and three decisions by two different ALJs the most recent decision still failed to demonstrate substantial evidence to discount the examining psychologist’s opinions and claimant’s subjective complaints. Thus, the court found that there is not substantial evidence to support discounting these pieces of evidence and the psychologist’s opinion should be given substantial weight. Id. “A court may step in and award DIB when ‘the delay involved in repeated remands has become unconscionable,’ or the agency has displayed ‘obduracy’ in complying with the law of the case.” Id. at 13-14 (citations omitted). Accordingly, the court concluded the examining psychologist’s opinions establish that claimant is entitled to benefits and remanded for an award of benefits. Id. at 14

Topics addressed:

  • Medical opinions (old law) - issue reserved to the Commissioner

  • Mental impairments - GAF scores

  • Subjective symptoms - failure to comply with treatment

  • Subjective symptoms - daily activities

  • Vocational testimony - hypothetical question

  • Remand for an award of benefits

    Rulings addressed: (none)