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What Does It Mean for Social Security to Give “Some Weight” to My Doctor's Opinions?

Posted on in Social Security Disability Medical Conditions

IL disability lawyerThe general rule in Social Security disability cases is that agency officials should give “controlling weight” to the medical conclusions of an applicant's treating physicians unless those opinions are not supported by the other evidence presented. If a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) decides to give a treating physician's views less-than-controlling weight, it is the ALJ's responsibility to explain their reasons. In fact, there is a required checklist of factors the ALJ is required to follow in such cases.

Magistrate Orders New Hearing After ALJ Fails to Follow “Checklist”

But this does not mean the ALJ actually follows the checklist. A recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Kenneth P. v. Saul, offers a useful illustration. In this case, the plaintiff suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) and applied for disability benefits five years ago. A Social Security ALJ denied the plaintiff's application after only giving “some weight” to the medical opinions offered by the plaintiff's treating neurologist.

As the magistrate explained, the neurologist concluded that the plaintiff's “fatigue and balance issues” related to his MS made him unable “to sustain a regular 40-hour work schedule.” The plaintiff also suffered from mental limitations that prevented him from “adequately” performing any type of desk job that required “memory and attention.”

The ALJ assigned “some weight,” but not “controlling weight,” to the neurologist's expert opinions. The magistrate pointed out the “some weight” description was “not particularly useful.” The magistrate said that under binding precedent from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, an ALJ who decides to apply less-than-controlling weight in these cases must follow a checklist of factors, including “the length, nature, and extent of the treatment relationship, frequency of examination, the physician's specialty, the types of tests performed, and the consistency and supportability of the physician's opinion.”

In this case, the magistrate said the ALJ “did not appropriately address each of the checklist's factors.” Indeed, the ALJ's opinion failed to address any of the factors. And the reasons the ALJ did offer for discounting the neurologist's opinions were based on an “inaccurate summary” of what the doctor actually said.

For this and other reasons, the magistrate ordered Social Security to conduct a new hearing on the plaintiff's application for disability benefits. The magistrate also suggested that the ALJ “re-contact” the neurologist to clarify any portions of his earlier testimony that might require clarification.

Speak with a Cook County Social Security Attorney Today

Social Security is often quick to reject a disability application. At the same time, the agency often comes up short when trying to justify such denials. But the law does not permit ALJs or the Commissioner to arbitrarily and capriciously reject a valid disability claim.

If you find yourself in a similar position to the plaintiff in the case above, it is imperative that you work with an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer who understands the law in this area. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today to schedule a free consultation with an attorney who will represent your best interests.




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