United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. Cox Magistrate Judge
Sean Decker (“Plaintiff”) appeals the decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) to deny his application for
disability benefits. The parties have filed cross-motions for
summary judgment. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's
motion is granted [dkt. 17], the Commissioner's motion is
denied [dkt. 19], and the case is remanded for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
was involved in a motor vehicle accident in
2005. (R. 243.) Much of Plaintiff's medical
treatment centers around his issues with a back injury and
degenerative disc disease that followed his motor vehicle
accident. Plaintiff filed for disability insurance benefits,
Supplemental Security Income, and child's insurance
benefits under the Social Security Act. Decker, 2013
WL 5300641, at *1. Plaintiff's application was denied,
and he filed an appeal seeking judicial review in the United
States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Id. Magistrate Judge Young B. Kim remanded
Plaintiff's case for further proceedings. Id. at
*15. Among the reasons Judge Kim remanded the case was the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) failure to
appropriately weigh Plaintiff's treating physicians'
opinions. Id. at *8-10. Regarding the opinion of
Plaintiff's treating spinal surgeon, Dr. George
DePhillips, Judge Kim ordered that “[b]efore
discounting Dr. DePhillips's opinion, the ALJ must
consider all of the factors listed in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c) and 20 C.F.R. 416.1527(c), and not just those
that diminish that opinion.” Id. at *9.
Similarly, regarding Plaintiff's treating pain management
specialist, Dr. Samil Sharma, Judge Kim also stated that
“[o]n remand, the ALJ should reassess whether Dr.
Sharma's opinion is entitled to controlling weight, and,
if not, should consider the regulatory factors listed in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(c), 416.1527(c) to determine what if
any weight is due.” Id. at *10.
remand, Plaintiff had another administrative hearing. (R.
538.) The ALJ denied Plaintiff's claims, but the Appeals
Council for the Social Security Administration remanded the
case for resolution by a different ALJ. (R. 538.) An
additional hearing was held before ALJ William Spalo on
October 5, 2016. ALJ Spalo (hereinafter, “the
ALJ”) found that Plaintiff was not disabled. In
reaching this decision, the ALJ considered the opinions of
Plaintiff's treating physicians. Regarding Dr.
DePhillips, the ALJ's discussion is diffuse and slightly
unclear. However, the ALJ found that the “[o]pinions
proffered by Dr. DePhillips in the latter months of 2007,
that the claimant is off work, unable to return to work, and
not capable of meaningful employment, are given little weight
as they are not consistent with the longitudinal record as
described above and beyond that, they concern issues which
are reserved to the Commissioner.” (R. 552.) The ALJ
also gave little weight to Dr. DePhillips's February 2010
medical source statements due to a “lack of evidentiary
support.” (R. 549.) The ALJ further gave little
weight to Dr. Sharma's opinions that Plaintiff
“would be subject to good and bad days and would have
significant difficulty traveling to work or even performing
ordinary household chores and activities of daily living on
bad days” because these opinions “are just not
reflected in his treatment notes.” (R. 549.) However,
Dr. Sharma's treatment notes from 2008 limiting Plaintiff
to lifting 25 pounds were “afforded weight to the
extent consistent with the above-noted residual functional
capacity.” (R. 548.)
Security regulations direct an ALJ to evaluate each medical
opinion in the record. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c). Because
of a treating physician's greater familiarity with the
claimant's condition and the progression of his
impairments, the opinion of a claimant's treating
physician is entitled to controlling weight as long as it is
supported by medical findings and is not inconsistent with
other substantial evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(c)(2); Loveless v. Colvin, 810 F.3d 502, 507
(7th Cir. 2016); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d at 870.
An ALJ must provide “good reasons” for how much
weight he gives to a treating source's medical opinion.
See Collins v. Astrue, 324 Fed.Appx. 516, 520 (7th
Cir. 2009); 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2) (“We will
always give good reasons in our…decisions for the
weight we give your treating source's opinion.”).
When an ALJ decides for “good reasons” not to
give controlling weight to a treating physician's
opinion, he must determine what weight to give to it and
other available medical opinions in accordance with a series
of factors, including the length, nature, and extent of any
treatment relationship; the frequency of examination; the
physician's specialty; the supportability of the opinion;
and the consistency of the physician's opinion with the
record as a whole. Yurt v. Colvin, 758 F.3d at 860;
Moss v. Astrue, 555 F.3d 556, 561 (7th Cir. 2009);
see 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2)-(6). An ALJ must provide
“sound explanation” for the weight he gives each
opinion. Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th
Cir. 2013). If he does not discuss each factor explicitly,
the ALJ should demonstrate that he is aware of and has
considered the relevant factors. Schreiber v.
Colvin, 519 Fed.Appx. 951, 959 (7th Cir. 2013).
are the very factors that Judge Kim clearly and explicitly
instructed the ALJ to consider in his remand order.
Nonetheless, the ALJ's opinion is entirely bereft of any
discussion of these factors, much to the puzzlement of this
Court. Therefore, because the ALJ failed to follow the Judge
Kim's clear mandate regarding the proper steps in
weighing opinion evidence, the ALJ's opinion is reversed,
and this case is remanded for further proceedings consistent
with this opinion.
foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs motion is granted [dkt. 17],
the Commissioner's motion is denied [dkt. 19], and the
case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this
 The Court construes Plaintiff's
Memorandum in Support of Reversing the Decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security as a motion for summary
 For a detailed recitation of the facts
of this case, the Court refers to Magistrate Judge Young B.
Kim's previous opinion, in which he ably and thoroughly
summarized Plaintiff's treatment history and his treating
physicians' opinions. Decker v. Colvin, No.
12-cv-4040, 2013 WL 5300641, at *1-7 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 19,
 The ALJ did find that Dr.
DePhillips's 2006 opinion that Plaintiff could perform
work “requiring a significant level of physical
demand” should be “given weight” because it
was supported by the “dearth of objective
findings” that would suggest greater limitations on
Plaintiff, despite the fact that the 2006 opinion predated a
March 2007 lumbar discogram that showed a grade V tear at the
L4-S1 levels with internal disc disruption. (R. 547-548.)
Setting aside the logical problems with giving weight to the
earliest available opinion while giving no weight to the
later opinions - which are informed by additional diagnostic
testing for a condition that can worsen over time - the ALJ
still failed to assign a specific weight to the opinion or
consider any of the regulatory factors discussed
 A recent change to the
Administration's regulation regarding weighing opinion
evidence will eliminate this rule, commonly known as the
“treating physician rule, ” for new claims filed
on or after March 27, 2017. Revisions to Rules Regarding
the Evaluation of Medical Evidence, 82 Fed. Reg. 5844,
5848-49 (Jan. 18, 2017) (to be codified at 20 C.F.R. pts. 404