ALJ Doesn’t Properly Weigh Medical Evidence for Claimant with Bipolar Disorder

In a recent district court decision, a 51-year-old plaintiff asked for summary judgment to reverse the SSA’s finding that he wasn’t disabled. If you are trying to obtain Social Security Disability benefits in California, it is crucial to have a dedicated SSDI attorney by your side throughout the process.

The plaintiff in question worked as a manager of a free clothing program for 18.5 years and applied for SSDI benefits, claiming that he was disabled because of bipolar disorder starting in 2011. The application was denied, and then he was found not disabled by an administrative law judge who believed he had residual functional capacity and there existed jobs he could still perform as a result.

The plaintiff had a history of suicidal ideation, depression, and bipolar disorder. He’d been hospitalized twice for suicidal ideation. He admitted himself to the ER complaining that he was depressed and suffering from suicidal ideation. He also said he’d been feeling more depressed for the last three months, as well as experiencing insomnia, hopelessness, and increased appetite. However, he presented to a doctor as someone with good insight and judgment to counteract his suicidal ideation.

He saw the doctor irregularly from 2010-2013. The doctor observed he was able to take care of himself and had friends that varied based on moods. He was able to keep up his household but had poor concentration when depressed and was distractible due to ADHD. However, the plaintiff’s mood instability had made employment problematic and maybe even impossible. He was on various medications.

The plaintiff claimed that the administrative law judge had made a mistake in giving less weight to his treating psychiatrists, rejecting his credibility, and discrediting medical proof by cherry-picking those records that showed he’d improved.

The court explained that a treating doctor’s opinion has more weight than an examining doctor’s opinion, and an examining doctor’ opinion should be given more weight than the opinion of a non-examining doctor. The ALJ is supposed to decide which doctors are credible. A treating doctor’s opinion should be presumed conclusive but gets more weight. If his opinion isn’t contradicted, the ALJ needs to have clear and convincing reasons.

In this case, the treating psychiatrist’s opinion was contradicted by a consulting examining doctor whose opinion was that the plaintiff wasn’t impaired in his ability to keep attention and to adapt to job routine changes. The ALJ didn’t have sufficient reasoning for the district court to decide it had properly weighed the treating doctor’s opinion. Further the ALJ didn’t provide enough evidence or reasoning to conclude the plaintiff could function effectively in a workplace based on improved symptoms, given the cycles associated with mental health. The court further found that the ALJ hadn’t given specific, valid reasons for giving so little weight to a treating psychiatrist whose opinion was supported by medical proof.

The plaintiff also argued the ALJ had made a mistake in assessing credibility and claimed the ALJ hadn’t given clear and convincing reasons for rejecting his testimony about his disability. The court noted that some of the credibility issues had to do with the ALJ’s evaluation of the medical evidence. The court refrained from analyzing the credibility finding, but did grant the plaintiff’s motion. The case was sent back down for further proceedings.

Many people find it difficult to obtain Social Security Disability benefits. An experienced Social Security lawyer may make a difference to the outcome of your case. If you believe you may need to apply for Social Security Disability benefits in Fresno, contact Peña & Bromberg, PLC at 559-439-9700 or via our online form.

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