Tuesday, February 05, 2008

disability - credibility - medical sources - findings and reasons

Echols v. Astrue - ED Pa. - January 31, 2008


Case remanded because of improper determination about claimant's credibility and the other errors listed below.

The ALJ erred in crediting evidence from one source about claimant's credibility but rejecting evidence from the same source about claimant's RFC, without explaining this inherent contradiction. In making findings about credibility and other issues, findings, the ALJ must indicate in his decision which evidence he has rejected and which he is relying, as well as the reasons for choosing one over the other, so that the court can assess whether significant probative evidence was credited or ignored. Schaudeck v. Commr., 181 F.3d 429, 433 (3d Cir. 1999).

GAF - acceptable medical source - SSR 06-3p allows the opinion of an other-than "acceptable medical source" to outweigh that of an "acceptable medical source." Here a AMS set the GAF at 57 but an other than AMS (a masters level clinician and licensed clinician) found it to be 45. The ALJ did not explain his preference for the AMS's opinion. In addition, the defendant commissioner improperly gave a reason for the decision that was not included in the ALJ decision. Defendant may not substitute its reasons for that of the ALJ’s. See Fargnoli v. Halter, 247 F.3d 34, 44 n.7 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 87 (1943) (“[T]he grounds upon which an administrative order must be judged are those upon which the record discloses that its action was based”)).

claimant's credibility - findings and reasons - The ALJ did not explain why/how he found some of claimant's statements credible and others not credible. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. at 87; Fargnoli, 247 F.3d at 44 n.7. The ALJ’s failure to indicate clearly in his credibility finding which of Plaintiff’s statements he credited, which he found were not supported by the medical record, and why, leaves the court unable to assess properly whether significant probative evidence was credited or ignored. See Schaudeck, 181 F.3d at 433.

RFC formulation - In determining the RFC, the ALJ must consider all relevant evidence. Fargnoli, 247 F.3d at 41. “That evidence includes medical records, observations made during formal medical examinations, descriptions of limitations by the claimant and others, and observations of the claimant’s limitations by others.” Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)). The ALJ’s RFC finding must provide a clear and satisfactory explanation of its basis but did not do so here.

VE opinion - The errors listed above also made the VE hypothetical improper. After correcting errors in the ALJ’s credibility and RFC determinations on remand, the ALJ must present a complete hypothetical to the VE and consider any VE opinion that encompasses all limitations found to exist.