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Northington v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 10, 2018

MARY HOLLY NORTHINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.

          ORDER

          GENE E.K. PRATTER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         AND NOW, this 10th day of May, 2018, upon consideration of Plaintiff's Request for Review (Doc. No. 14), Defendant Nancy Berryhill's Response (Doc. No. 16), Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. No. 17), Magistrate Judge Marilyn Heffley's Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 18), and Plaintiff's Objections (Doc. No. 19), it is ORDERED as follows:

1. The Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 18) is APPROVED and ADOPTED;[1]
2. Plaintiff's Request for Review (Doc. No. 14) is DENIED; and
3. The Clerk of Court shall mark this case CLOSED for all purposes, including statistics.

         It is so ORDERED.

---------

Notes:

[1] Ms. Northington identifies four errors in the Report and Recommendation, and, by extension, in the ALJ's conclusion. None has merit.

First, she argues that the ALJ unfairly discounted the evaluation and opinion of Dr. Matiz on the ground that Dr. Matiz treated Ms. Northington only once. See Report & Recommendation, at 9. She points out that Dr. Johnson, whose evaluation and opinion received greater weight from the ALJ, also treated Ms. Northington only once.

But Dr. Matiz's one-off treatment was not the ALJ's only reason for discounting his opinion; both the ALJ and Magistrate Judge Heffley also emphasized the “large gap” in time between Dr. Matiz's treatment of Ms. Northington and his opinion of her disabilities. See Report & Recommendation, at 7.

Furthermore, Dr. Matiz's one-off treatment was relevant to his opinion in a way that Dr. Johnson's was not: Ms. Northington claimed that Dr. Matiz qualified as her “treating physician” whose opinion was entitled to controlling weight. But treating physicians only receive such deference because they typically see their patients more than once and are therefore “most able to provide a detailed, longitudinal picture of [the patient's] medical impairments.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2). Yet a doctor who sees a patient only once cannot provide such a detailed, longitudinal picture. See Report & Recommendation, at 8.

Second, Ms. Northington argues that the ALJ focused myopically on the inconsistencies between Dr. Matiz's contemporaneous treatment notes and his eventual opinion about Ms. Northington's disabilities. See Report & Recommendation, at 10. Instead, the ALJ should have evaluated Dr. Matiz's medical opinion for its consistency “with the record as a whole.” See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(4).

But a doctor's firsthand notes are a piece of the overall record - and a potentially vital piece, when (as here) the notes undercut the doctor's eventual medical opinion. See Report & Recommendation, at 9. The discrepancy between Dr. Matiz's notes and his eventual opinion present “relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion” that Dr. Matiz's opinion should be discounted. See ...


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