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A federal court in Alaska, while ultimately rejecting the claim of a rejected Social Security applicant that a judge inappropriately relied on medical evaluations by doctors who had been the subject of disciplinary actions, did acknowledge that disciplinary histories could be used when evaluating the weight to be accorded those opinions (Gurnett v. Colvin).

When Michael Gurnett applied for Social Security disability benefits, he claimed, among other disabilities, post traumatic stress disorder and severe anxiety stemming from witnessing the killing of a customer at a hotel where he had worked in 2002, spinal disc degeneration and misalignment, and Horner’s Syndrome, caused by nerve damage in the neck. However, an administrative law judge, doubting the credibility of some of his ailments, rejected his claim, and he appealed to a federal district court, which issued an opinion September 30.

Among Gurnett’s arguments on appeal was that the ALJ’s decision inappropriately relied on analyses by two neurosurgeons who had both been disciplined by their state medical boards, essentially arguing that their disciplinary sanctions disqualified their medical evaluations for the purposes of his case.

Judge Sharon Gleason, hearing the case, disagreed, writing that, while the doctors’ disciplinary histories may be considered in an evaluation of the weight to be accorded to their medical opinions, those sanctions did not categorically disqualify those opinions, and they were properly considered by the ALJ hearing the case. Because neither doctor had opined outside the field of their expertise, and because both were licensed and able to practice at the time they provided their evaluations, those evaluations were not inappropriately relied on.

© 2018 Professional Licensing Report, published by ProForum, a non-profit research group, Reprinted by permission.

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