Friday, September 16, 2011

disability - ALJ failure to consider, discuss all relevant evidence - Mag. Judge v. ALJ - remand

Miller v. Astrue - ED Pa. - September 2011

According to the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, “an ALJ may not reject pertinent or probative evidence without explanation.” Johnson, 529 F.3d at 204. An “ALJ’s failure to explain his implicit rejection of [] evidence or even to acknowledge its presence [is] error.” Cotter, 642 F.2d at 707. Here, the ALJ implicitly rejected evidence provided in Drs. Swamy’s and Hoch’s RFCs that addressed Miller’s ability to sit, stand/walk, and stoop, and was inconsistent with the ALJ’s finding that Miller can perform light work. Additionally, the ALJ failed to acknowledge the existence of other probative medical evidence.

The ALJ’s failure to discuss and/or explain his reasons for rejecting relevant medical evidence makes it impossible to determine whether the ALJ reached the right result in this case.1 See Cotter, 642 F.2d at 706-07 (“[A]n explanation from the ALJ of the reason why probative evidence has been rejected is required so that a reviewing court can determine whether the reasons for rejection were improper.”)

Because it is impossible to know whether the ALJ properly determined that Miller can perform light work, given the ALJ’s treatment of the probative objective medical evidence, I will remand this case to the Commissioner so that the ALJ can properly consider step four.2 On remand, the ALJ must make specific findings as to all of the probative medical evidence and explain the reasons for rejecting any of this evidence.

n. 2 - The Magistrate Judge recommends that I deny Miller’s request for review of the Commissioner’s final decision to deny benefits. This recommendation is not based on the ALJ’s opinion; rather, it is based on evidence that the Magistrate Judge culled from the records Miller submitted to the ALJ, which the ALJ neglected to mention in his opinion. The Magistrate Judge relies on this additional information to fashion an explanation as to why the ALJ concluded that Miller is capable of performing light work, even though this explanation is lacking in the ALJ’s opinion. The Magistrate Judge must have recognized the deficiencies in the ALJ’s opinion and attempted to correct them by providing her own explanation for the ALJ’s opinion based on the additional evidence that she independently gathered from the record. Despite this valiant effort, it was error for the Magistrate Judge to have done so. See Fargnoli, 247 F.3d at 44 n.7 (explaning that a district court can’t attempt to rectify “the ALJ’s failure to consider all of the relevant and probative evidence, . . . by relying on medical records found in its own independent analysis, and which were not mentioned by the ALJ”).