In Potter v. Astrue, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York explains once again that a doctor’s opinion alone isn’t enough to win a Social Security Disability claim. There must be objective evidence in the record to support the opinion.
Mr. Potter filed a claim for Social Security Disability benefits in March 2010, alleging an inability to work as a result of a variety of impairments, including a blood disorder, asthma, “anger issues,” ADHD, a learning disability and depression. Potter, who previously worked in construction and garbage removal, also said that he wasn’t able to read or write because of the learning disability. Potter was denied initially, appealed and appeared at a hearing before an SSA Administrative Law Judge(ALJ) who determined that he wasn’t disabled.
Though he suffered from severe impairments in the form of “borderline intellectual functioning and [a] reading disorder,” the ALJ nevertheless concluded that Potter retained the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of physical work. The ALJ also said Potter could follow simple directions, perform basic tasks, take directions, interact with others and maintain a regular work schedule. As a result, the judge found that Potter could perform a variety of jobs available in the national economy.
The Federal District Court agreed, rejecting Potter’s claim that the ALJ failed to properly assess the opinions of two of his treating sources, Dennis Noia and Lakshman Prasad. The court said there was no merit to Potter’s argument that Noia’s opinion of his mental capacity was not relevant because he’s a psychologist, not a psychiatrist. “Pursuant to Social Security regulations, evidence of an impairment may be provided by acceptable medical sources, which include both licensed treating physicians and licensed or certified treating psychologists,” the court explained. Because Noia is a mental health professional and licensed psychologist, the court said the ALJ was correct in relying on his opinion.
Nor did the ALJ err in deciding to give little weight to Prasad’s opinion, the court said, despite the fact that he was Potter’s treating physician. Although an ALJ is generally required to give controlling weight to a treating doctor’s opinion, the court explained that the rule doesn’t apply where the opinion isn’t supported by other evidence in the record. Here, according to the court, Prasad’s opinion wasn’t supported by the record because Potter didn’t provide treatment or examination notes. The court said that the notes that were actually available, from an initial assessment at a behavioral health center, didn’t support Prasad’s opinion.
“Therefore, the ALJ did not err in assigning little or no weight to the opinion of Dr. Prasad because it is not supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques, and because it is not consistent with other substantial evidence in the record,” the court concluded. While we don’t know what his representative tried to do, at Hermann Law Group we put much of our effort into developing the medical evidence. In claims involving psychiatric or cognitive impairments such as this one it is not uncommon for a doctor to provide either opinion evidence or the treatment notes; but not both. if we cannot obtain them then we would ask for the ALJ to subpoena them.While it is our responsibility to develop the medical record, at times we will ask our clients to get involved and help their own cause.
As this case makes clear, medical evidence to support your doctor’s opinions is crucial to a Social Security Disability benefits claim. If you or a loved one is considering filing a claim for SSD benefits, contact the New York Social Security Disability lawyers at Hermann Law Group, PLLC. We understand the requirements to prove your claim and we are dedicated to providing high quality, personalized legal services to our clients.