United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
ORDER REMANDING TO THE COMMISSIONER
T. KEARNEY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Seehaver filed for social security disability benefits with
an alleged onset date of August 1, 2012. (R. at 75). The
administrative law judge (ALJ) denied her application after a
hearing. (R. at 27). The Appeals Council declined
Seehaver's request for review. (R. at 1). Seehaver has
requested judicial review, and the parties have consented to
the jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge.
reasons stated below, this Court reverses and remands the
The Commissioner's Decision
found that Seehaver had the severe impairments of diabetes
with neuropathy, acute bronchitis, plantar fasciitis, bladder
incontinence, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and
obesity. (R. at 16). The ALJ found that she had the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work, except that
she could only occasionally push/pull with the lower
extremities; must avoid hazards and concentrated exposures to
dust, odors, gasses, and fumes; must be afforded a sit/stand
option hourly for position change; can perform only simple,
routine work with simple instructions; and can have only
occasional contact with supervisors, coworkers, and the
general public. (R. at 19). The ALJ took testimony from a
vocational expert and determined that this RFC would not
allow Seehaver to return to her past relevant work. (R. at
25-26). The VE testified, however, that the RFC would allow
Seehaver to perform jobs such as inspector or assembler. (R.
at 27). The ALJ therefore held that Seehaver was not
disabled. (R. at 27).
argues that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of her
treating psychiatrist and improperly found her to be capable
of light work. As the Court holds that the ALJ improperly
rejected the treating psychiatrist's opinion, it is not
necessary to reach her other argument.
review, this Court determines whether substantial evidence on
the record as a whole supports the ALJ's decision.
Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997).
“Substantial evidence” is evidence that a
reasonable mind would find sufficient to support the
ALJ's decision. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923,
925 (8th Cir. 2009). Reversal is not warranted merely because
substantial evidence exists to support a contrary conclusion.
Long, 108 F.3d at 187.
gave little weight to the opinion of Sarita Subba, M.D., a
treating psychiatrist who opined that Seehaver would be
unreliable in understanding, remembering, and carrying out
detailed instructions; maintaining attention and
concentration for eight hours; performing at a pace and
consistency required for production work; working with or
near others without distraction; being on time and completing
a normal workday or workweek without absences due to
psychological symptoms; interacting appropriately with the
public; accepting instruction and criticism from supervisors;
getting along with coworkers and peers; dealing with typical
work stress; and maintaining socially appropriate behavior.
(R. at 24, 563). The ALJ rejected the opinion because panic
attacks were not objectively supported in the record and
because Dr. Subba's opinions were inconsistent with the
global assessment of functioning (GAF) scores of 58 that
Seehaver was assigned. (R. at 24).
notes that Dr. Subba revised the initial GAF score of 58 to
45 in a subsequent visit and later to 48. (R. at 529, 534).
The Commissioner responds that Stephanie Adams, LCSW
consistently assigned a GAF of 58. (R. at 502, 506, 508, 510,
521, 522, 523, 525, 531, 532, 536). However, a review of
those records indicates that, as Seehaver observes, they are
reflections of her diagnosis at her initial visit, as the
effective date on each of the GAF scores of 58 is August 15,
2014. The inconsistency that the ALJ noted is therefore
illusory, and the ALJ was mistaken in finding such an
also discounted Dr. Subba's opinion because her
“symptoms of panic attacks are not objectively
supported in the mental therapy treatment records.” (R.
at 24). Aside from the inherent difficulty in determining
what objective evidence of a panic attack would be, the
mental health treatment records do only contain the phrase
“panic attacks” once. (R. at 533). However,
Seehaver reported waking up screaming and having flashbacks
and nightmares on multiple occasions, as well as other
symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. (R. at 501, 521,
527, 533, 536). The supposed lack of objective evidence of
panic attacks is therefore insufficient reason to discount
the allegations of panic attacks and Dr. Subba's opinion
gave great weight to a consultative psychological examination
that occurred on July 22, 2014, before Seehaver began
treatment with Ms. Adams and Dr. Subba. (R. at 492). Aside
from the examination occurring before Seehaver began
treatment, it was also a one-time examination, and the
examiner's opinions were all derived from that limited
interaction. Such an opinion is not ordinarily entitled to
the same weight as a treating doctor's opinion. Singh
v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 452 (8th Cir. 2000). The record
does not show that the consultative examiner's opinion in
this instance was more reliable than the treating
the Commissioner contends that the ALJ discounted Dr.
Subba's opinion for more reasons than inconsistency with
the GAF scores and a lack of objective evidence of panic
attacks. The Commissioner states that the ALJ rejected Dr.
Subba's opinion because “the totality of the
evidence in the record belied her opinion.” (Doc. No.
17, 6). The Court disagrees. The ALJ made no such finding.
The entire discussion of Dr. Subba's opinion is limited
to the two points Seehaver notes, and there is not any
discussion of the consistency of Seehaver's opinion with
the rest of the record. The Court cannot uphold a decision
for reasons not articulated by the ALJ. Banks v.
Massanari, 258 F.3d 820, 824 (8th Cir. 2001). As such,
the decision should be reversed.