MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KRAM, District Judge.
Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, as amended, (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), challenging a final determination by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (the "Secretary") which denied plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits based upon disability. On November 5, 1986, pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule"), defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings. The action was referred to Magistrate Nina Gershon who issued a Report and Recommendation ("Report") on July 13, 1987 recommending that the Secretary's decision be reversed and that the case be remanded to the Secretary for further administrative proceedings. Presently before this Court are the Magistrate's recommendation and the Secretary's timely, Rule 72(b) objections.
Plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits on July 30, 1984, claiming disability due to sarcoidosis
Plaintiff testified before the ALJ that her symptoms first appeared "around" 1975, and that she is unable to work because she is unable to sit, stand, bend or lift for long periods of time. From September 3 to September 10, 1983 plaintiff was a patient at Harlem Hospital, where Dr. J. Comer issued a report listing plaintiff's principal diagnosis as aseptic meningitis
Dr. John Cohn, from a consultative examination performed on May 17, 1984, issued a diagnosis of pulmonary sarcoidosis,
Also in the record are three residual functional capacity assessments ("RFCA's") issued between July 11, 1984 and January 24, 1985 by state reviewing physicians and based exclusively on reviews of plaintiff's medical records. These RFCA's, with minor limitations, found plaintiff to be capable of a range of activity — standing, walking, sitting, pushing, pulling and occasional lifting — which would enable her to perform some kind of substantial, gainful work. The third RFCA stated that, because of plaintiff's obesity, she would be capable of performing only "medium work."
Plaintiff was represented before the ALJ by a paralegal. The ALJ determined that plaintiff presented medical evidence of morbid obesity, controlled hypertension, controlled bronchial asthma, arthralgia and a history of sarcoidosis, without clinical findings. The ALJ concluded that plaintiff did not suffer "an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to one listed in" Part A of Appendix 1, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P; that plaintiff's impairments "do not prevent [her] from performing her past relevant work"; and that Dr. Washington's opinion that plaintiff "should not return to work" was entitled to little weight because the doctor "did not offer any clinical findings in support of [that] opinion but merely restated what he was told."
The Magistrate decided that the ALJ did not properly substantiate his failure to accord any weight to the opinion of Dr. Washington, as a treating physician, that plaintiff "should not return to work." The Magistrate cites Schisler v. Heckler, 787 F.2d 76 (2d Cir.1986), for the proposition that "there is no requirement that the physician's medical testimony be supported by objective clinical or laboratory findings." Id., at 81-82 n. 2. The Magistrate maintains, additionally, that the ALJ failed to assist the plaintiff affirmatively in developing the record and that the ALJ ignored, without explanation, other evidence consistent with plaintiff's claim.
Defendant objects to the Magistrate's recommendation on two grounds. First, the Secretary argues that the language quoted by the Magistrate from Schisler was specifically rejected in that case as a part of the Second Circuit's "treating physician rule" and that the ALJ, therefore, was justified in according little weight to "Dr. Washington's unsubstantiated conclusory opinion." Secondly, the Secretary claims that plaintiff was represented by counsel at the administrative hearing and that the ALJ therefore had no such responsibility to assist plaintiff as the Magistrate asserts.
Plaintiff bears the burden of proving her own disability. Bluvband v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 886, 891 (2d Cir.1984). In the absence of legal error, the Secretary's finding that plaintiff is not disabled is conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Bluvband, supra, 730 F.2d at 891. The Secretary, however, must render a decision on the basis "of all the relevant evidence." Ceballos v. Bowen, 649 F.Supp. 693, 700 (S.D. N.Y.1986) (emphasis in original); see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(5)(B), 1382c(a)(5). Although the ALJ is not required to reconcile every ambiguity and inconsistency of medical testimony, Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir.1984), he cannot pick and choose evidence that supports a particular conclusion. Fiorello v. Heckler, 725 F.2d 174, 175-76 (2d Cir.1983); Ceballos, supra, 649 F. Supp at 700. His "failure to acknowledge relevant evidence or to explain its implicit rejection is plain error."
The treating physician rule in the Second Circuit provides that "a treating physician's opinion on the subject of medical disability, i.e., diagnosis and nature and degree of impairment, is: (i) binding on the fact-finder unless contradicted by substantial evidence; and (ii) entitled to some extra weight because the treating physician is usually more familiar with a claimant's medical condition than are other physicians." Schisler, supra, 787 F.2d at 81; Bluvband, supra, 730 F.2d at 892-93.
In Bluvband, the Court enunciated a third prong of the rule, holding "that there is no requirement that the [treating] physician's medical testimony be supported by objective clinical or laboratory findings" to be binding upon the fact-finder. Bluvband, supra, 730 F.2d at 893 (citations omitted). The Schisler court noted that Congress may have overruled this element of the rule in Section 3(a)(1) of the Reform Act which became law in 1984. Schisler, supra, 787 F.2d at 81-82 n. 2; see 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)(A).
It is probable, considering Dr. Washington's report and plaintiff's regular attendance at the Harlem Hospital clinic, that Dr. Washington was familiar with plaintiff's medical history and with any clinical or laboratory findings included in her Harlem Hospital records. But it is not clear from the record whether Dr. Washington was in fact plaintiff's regular treating physician. If Dr. Washington was not a treating physician then, of course, the treating physician rule does not render his medical opinion binding upon the ALJ. If Dr. Washington was plaintiff's treating physician, however, the ALJ erred in not substantiating his failure to endorse Dr. Washington's opinion that plaintiff "should not return to work." Then, insofar as the ALJ relies solely upon the opinions of other physicians
In a case such as this, the ALJ must not only weigh the evidence but must assist the plaintiff affirmatively in developing the record. It may be true, as the Secretary contends, that "plaintiff was represented by Harlem Legal Services, which has considerable expertise in litigating Social Security Claims." But plaintiff's actual representative before the ALJ was a paralegal. The proceedings in cases involving social security benefits "are not designed to be adversarial." Donato v. Secretary of Dept. of Health, 721 F.2d 414, 418 (2d Cir.1983) (quoting Schauer v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 55, 57 (2d Cir.1982)). "The Social Security Act is a remedial statute which must be `liberally applied'; its intent is inclusion rather than exclusion." Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 29 (2d Cir.1979) (quoting Cutler v. Weinberger, 516 F.2d 1282, 1285 (2d Cir.1975) (citation omitted)). The ALJ's duty to develop the comprehensive record requisite for an equitable determination of disability is greatest when claimant is unrepresented; but the duty still exists when plaintiff is represented and even more, as here, where plaintiff is represented at hearing by a paralegal.
The ALJ in the case before us did not adequately perform this duty. He neither questioned the plaintiff concerning Dr. Washington's status, nor requested an RFCA from Dr. Washington. And he did not attempt to obtain complete records on plaintiff from Harlem Hospital, even though the Secretary's own consultant, Dr. Richard Woronoff, stated that such records "would make documentation of [her] diagnosis much easier." The ALJ erred additionally in failing to address certain evidence favorable to the claimant such as Dr. Cohn's notation of plaintiff's inability to perform the stress test and other elements of Dr. Cohn's report consistent with the findings of plaintiff's physician.
This Court accordingly adopts the Magistrate's recommendation, reversing the Secretary's decision and remanding this matter to the ALJ for further proceedings consistent with the aforegoing. The ALJ should procure all hospital records not previously obtained, RFCA's from the treating as well as the consulting physicians and such further information from Dr. Washington as is necessary. The ALJ should then evaluate all the evidence to determine whether, in combination, plaintiff's medical conditions render her disabled.