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Clemins v. Astrue

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

August 18, 2014

MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


MICHAEL F. URBANSKI, District Judge.

This social security disability appeal was referred to the Honorable Joel C. Hoppe, United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), for proposed findings of fact and a recommended disposition. The magistrate judge filed a report and recommendation on June 26, 2014, recommending that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied, the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment be granted, and the Commissioner's final decision be affirmed. Plaintiff filed objections to the report on July 10, 2014, and the Commissioner filed a response to those objections on July 22, 2014. As such, this matter is now ripe for the court's consideration. For the reasons set forth herein the court will adopt the report and recommendation in full.


The report and recommendation provides a lengthy and detailed overview of the relevant procedural history, which the courts adopts and incorporates herein by reference. The most pertinent facts are as follows: Calvin E. Clemins ("Clemins") previously filed for disability on September 8, 2006. That application was ultimately denied by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") by decision dated September 9, 2009. Clemins re-flied for disability in April of 2010. A second ALJ found that Clemins had "the following severe combination of impairments: posttraumatic stress disorder, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, anxiety, disorders of the spine, obesity, and personality disorder." R. 22. However, the ALJ determined that none of Clemins' severe impairments, alone or in combination, met or equaled any listed impairment, [1] R. 27-29, and that Clemins in fact retained a residual functional capacity to perform a "wide range of light work, " subject to certain non-exertional limitations. R. 29. As such, the ALJ concluded that Clemins is not disabled under the act. R. 36. Clemins then filed the instant civil action.


Clemins has delineated seven objections to the findings and conclusions of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. As set forth below in detail below, the court does not find any to be with merit.

A. GAF Scores.

Clemins first asserts that the report and recommendation should have found that the ALJ erred by failing to consider his GAF scores. He argues these scores, when taking in context with the rest of the evidence of record, demonstrate that the ALJ's conclusion that he does not met or equal a listed impairment is not supported by substantial evidence. GAF, or "Global Assessment of Functioning, " scores represent a "clinician's judgment of the individual's overall level of functioning." American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ("DSM-IV") 32 (4th ed. 2000).[2] The magistrate judge correctly noted that "a given GAF score has no direct legal or medical correlation to the severity requirements of social security regulations." Report and Recommendation, Dkt. No. 20, at 16-17 (quoting Powell v. Astrue , 927 F.Supp.2d 267, 273 (W.D. N.C. 2013)). GAF scores also are merely a "snapshot of functioning at any given moment." Powell , 927 F.Supp.2d at 273 (citation omitted). As such, the magistrate judge noted, GAF scores "may not be indicative of [a claimant's] long term level of functioning.'" Report and Recommendation, Dkt. No. 20, at 17 (alternation in original) (quoting Parker v. Astrue , 664 F.Supp.2d 544, 557 (D.S.C. 2009)). Given the questionable probative value of GAF scores, it unsurprising that courts have concluded that "the failure to reference a GAF score is not, standing alone, sufficient ground to reverse a disability determination.'" Paris v. Colvin, 7:12-CV-00596, 2014 WL 534057 (W.D. Va. Feb. 10, 2014) (internal alterations omitted) (quoting Love v. Astrue, 3:11cv014, 2011 WL 4899989, at *5 (W.D. N.C. Sept. 6, 2011). Reversal on such grounds is particularly inappropriate "where the ALJ fully evaluated the records and treatment notes upon which the GAF scores were based." Id . (citing Love, 2011 WL 4899989, at *5). The report and recommendation accurately recites this law, and Clemins makes no effort to argue otherwise.

Furthermore, Clemins' assertion that the magistrate judge incorrectly concluded that his GAF scores compel remand is unwarranted. The magistrate judge correctly concluded both that the ALJ adequately assessed the relevant evidence in his listing analysis and that the GAF scores, even taken in context with the other evidence of record, provide no basis for finding that Clemins meets or equals a listing. The ALJ fully evaluated the records and treatment notes upon which the GAF scores were based. The records and treatment notes provided the necessary context for understanding GAF scores. Cf. Powell , 927 F.Supp.2d at 273 ("A GAF score is... not dispositive of anything in and of itself[.]"). The numerical scores associated with these records and treatment notes provide little if any additional information. As such, the court agrees with the report and recommendation's conclusion that the fact that ALJ did not explicitly note the numerical GAF scores provides no basis for remand.

B. Identification of Treating Opinions

Clemins appears to take umbrage with the magistrate judge's comment that Clemins failed to identify the treating source opinions he alleges the ALJ gave improper weight. Clemins notes that he mentioned "the medical evidence that was not given controlling weight by the ALJ in its decision" in the fact section of his memorandum in support of his summary judgment motion. Pl.'s Objections, Dkt. No. 21, at 4. However, the entirety of the brief's argument section on the subject is as follows:

The Opinions and Conclusions of the Treating Health Care Providers.
The ALJ was required to give the treating sources controlling weight in determining whether Mr. Clemins meets or equals a listed impairment. 20 CFR §404.1527. Treating physicians' opinions are given controlling weight if they are supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and are not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record. SSR 96-5p recognizes that since a treating source is usually the best source of documentation regarding whether a clamant's [sic] impairment meets the requirements of a listed impairment, the ALJ must look to the treating source for medical evidence with which he or she can determine whether an individual's impairment meets a listing.
The record is replete with the diagnoses of and treatment by Mr. Clemins' health care providers who ultimately provided letters indicating that Mr. Clemins is disabled. The record includes their assessment of Mr. Clemins' level of functioning throughout the relevant time period as identified through GAF scores which the ALJ ignored. The treating source opinions are supported by objective medical evidence and are not ...

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