In Social Security Disability cases, a treating physician should be the claimant's best friend. Because a person's treating physician has had the opportunity to examine the person over an extended period of time, the physician's opinion is afforded greater weight than that of other sources. In Funk v. Astrue, a New York court ruled that this opinion is so important that a Social Security judge can't properly rule on a benefits claim without it.
Plaintiff Rebecca Funk asserted in her claim for Social Security Disability benefits that she was unable to work due to fibromyalgia, seizure disorder and migraine headaches, among other impairments.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the claim and and held a hearing before an SSA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Despite finding that Plaintiff suffered from severe impairments, the ALJ concluded that she was not disabled because there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform with this RFC.
On appeal, the District Court for the Northern District of New York reversed the ALJ's decision, ruling that that ALJ erred in failing to contact Plaintiff's treating physicians for more information on her ability to work.
"An ALJ has an obligation to develop the administrative record, including, in certain circumstances, recontacting a source of a claimant's medical evidence, sua sponte, to obtain additional information," the Court explained. In the event that the record before an ALJ does not include a Medical Source Statement ("MSS") or RFC Assessment - each of which details a doctor's opinion regarding the claimant's ability to work - from the claimant's treating physician, the Court further explained that the ALJ has a duty to contact the physician in an attempt to obtain this evidence.