Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Alberto Solorzano v. Michael J. Astrue

January 10, 2012

ALBERTO SOLORZANO,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Patrick J. Walsh United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff appeals a decision by Defendant Social Security Administration ("the Agency"), denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). He claims that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred when he failed to properly consider: (1) Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") scores; (2) a social worker's opinion; (3) Plaintiff's mother's testimony; (4) the consulting psychiatrist's opinion; and (5) the vocational expert's testimony. For the reasons discussed below, the Agency's decision is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

II. SUMMARY OF PROCEEDINGS

In December 2007, Plaintiff applied for SSI, alleging that he was disabled due to schizophrenia. (Administrative Record ("AR") 52-58, 68, 335.) The Agency denied the application initially and on reconsideration. (AR 25-36.) Plaintiff then requested and was granted a hearing before an ALJ. Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at the hearing on January 22, 2010. (AR 332-53.) The ALJ subsequently issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 13-22.) Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council, which denied review. (AR 4-6.) He then commenced this action.

III. ANALYSIS

A. The GAF Scores

Throughout the course of his treatment, various mental health professionals assigned Plaintiff GAF scores, ranging from a low of 21 to a high of 55. (AR 173-331.) The ALJ generally acknowledged the existence of these scores but found them of limited evidentiary value because they were subjective and revealed only a snapshot of Plaintiff's then-current condition. (AR 19.) The ALJ put more emphasis on "the objective details and chronology of the record," which he believed "more accurately describe[d Plaintiff's] impairments and limitations." (AR 19-20.)

Plaintiff takes exception to the ALJ's treatment of the GAF scores. He argues that it was not proper for the ALJ to brush all of the scores aside with a single stroke of the pen and that more specificity was required. (Joint Stip. at 5-6.) He argues further that the ALJ's reasons for rejecting the scores---i.e., that they were subjective, captured only a snapshot in time, and were inferior to the more detailed records---was not sufficient to justify the ALJ's conclusion. (Joint Stip. at 9-15.) For the following reasons, the Court disagrees.

GAF scores are a tool used by mental health professionals to quantify in a single measure a patient's overall level of functioning at a given moment in time. See Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Ed., Text Revision ("DSM-IV-TR") at 32. As a general rule, an ALJ is not required to consider GAF scores in assessing a claimant's ability to work. See Howard v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 276 F.3d 235, 241 (6th Cir. 2002) ("While a GAF score may be of considerable help to the ALJ in formulating the [residual functional capacity], it is not essential to the [residual functional capacity]'s accuracy. Thus, the ALJ's failure to reference the GAF score in the [residual functional capacity], standing alone, does not make the [residual functional capacity] inaccurate."). Arguably, however, GAF scores can be probative of a claimant's mental health on a given day and should at least be acknowledged by the ALJ. See, e.g., Hacker v. Astrue, 2008 WL 4224952, at *5 n.2 (W.D. Okla. 2008) ("[I]t was error for the administrative law judge to not at least address the GAF scores and explain why they were not relevant.")

The ALJ acknowledged that there were GAF scores in the record and explained why he was not relying on them. This was more than he was required to do. As such, he did not err.

Plaintiff disagrees. He argues that the ALJ was required to provide compelling reasons for discounting the scores and that he failed to do so. This argument is rejected because there is no such requirement. Howard, 276 F.3d at 241. Even assuming that the ALJ was required to provide reasons for discounting the scores, the ALJ's justification here was sufficient to satisfy that burden. Clearly, as Plaintiff acknowledges, GAF scores are subjective and capture only a brief moment in a claimant's overall course of treatment. The ALJ's election to put more emphasis on objective findings from a longitudinal perspective is a reasonable one that the Court will not second-guess.

Plaintiff argues that the Court's ruling in Dempster v. Astrue, 2008 WL 4381541 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 23, 2008), supports his argument that reversal is mandated here. Again, the Court disagrees. There, the Court made clear that, had the ALJ not erred in other ways, it would not have remanded the case based on the ALJ's failure to mention the GAF score assessed by the plaintiff's treating psychiatrist. In fact, in Dempster, the ALJ had overlooked the treating psychiatrist's records altogether, which compelled remand. Id. at *2. Here, the ALJ discussed the treating ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.