Blair v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Erin L. Setser on April 30, 2014. (src)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
MARVIN WAYNE BLAIR
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Marvin Wayne Blair, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking
judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner) denying his claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
(DIB) under the provisions of Title II of the Social Security Act (Act) and for supplemental
security income (SSI) under the provisions of Title XVI of the Act. In this judicial review, the
Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to
support the Commissioner’s decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI on August 25, 2010, alleging disability
since February 1, 2009,1 due to depression; lower back pain; pain in both hands, stiffness,
numbness; pain in both knees; arthritis; being overweight; his right elbow locks up; and sleep
apnea. (Tr. 34, 115-116, 122-126, 146). An administrative hearing was held on February 17,
2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and he and his wife testified. (Tr. 27-53).
By written decision dated March 9, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had an impairment
At the hearing before the ALJ on February 17, 2012, Plaintiff’s attorney amended the onset date to February 1,
2009. (Tr. 34).
or combination of impairments that were severe - hypertension, osteoarthritis, tendinopathy of
his left shoulder, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, obesity, and chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (COPD)(mild to moderate). (Tr. 15). However, after reviewing all of the evidence
presented, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or equal the level of
severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P,
Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 17). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform:
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he
needs to work in a controlled environment where he has no exposure to
significant amounts of concentrated dust, fumes, smoke or chemical
irritants. Further, he can perform a job that involves frequent but not
repetitive fingering or grasping.
(Tr. 18). With the help of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to
perform his past relevant work, but that there were other jobs Plaintiff could perform, such as
furniture rental clerk, boat rental clerk, and crossing guard/traffic flagger. (Tr. 22-23).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which
considered an additional medical record, and denied the request on January 28, 2013. (Tr. 1-6).
Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant
to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 6). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now
ready for decision. (Docs. 10, 12).
The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments are
presented in the parties’ briefs, and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.
This Court’s role is to determine whether the Commissioner’s findings are supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F. 3d 576, 583 (8th Cir.
2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but it is enough that a reasonable mind
would find it adequate to support the Commissioner’s decision. The ALJ’s decision must be
affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.
3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003). As long as there is substantial evidence in the record that supports
the Commissioner’s decision, the Court may not reverse it simply because substantial evidence
exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because the Court would
have decided the case differently. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). In
other words, if after reviewing the record, it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions from
the evidence and one of those positions represents the findings of the ALJ, the decision of the
ALJ must be affirmed. Young v. Apfel, 221 F. 3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).
It is well established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden
of proving his disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one
year and that prevents him from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. Pearsall v.
Massanari, 274 F. 3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); see also 42 U.S.C. §§423(d)(1)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines “physical or mental impairment” as “an impairment that results
from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§423(d)(3),
1382(3)(D). A Plaintiff must show that his disability, not simply his impairment, has lasted for
at least twelve consecutive months.
The Commissioner’s regulations require him to apply a five-step sequential evaluation
process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant had engaged in substantial
gainful activity since filing his claim; (2) whether the claimant had a severe physical and/or
mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) met or equaled
an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevented the claimant from doing
past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant was able to perform other work in the national
economy given his age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §416.920. Only if the final
stage is reached does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff’s age, education, and work experience
in light of his residual functional capacity (RFC). See McCoy v. Schneider, 683 F.2d 1138,
1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. §416.920.
Among the numerous medical records, there are records of two physicians which are
significant to the Court, especially in light of the ALJ’s findings. The first is the opinion of Dr.
Karmen Hopkins, a non-examining consultant who completed a Physical RFC Assessment on
September 29, 2010. (Tr. 216-223). In the assessment, Dr. Hopkins found that the medical
records supported an RFC of light work with no rapid/repetitive movement of the wrists, and no
overhead reaching by the left upper extremity. (Tr. 223). The next opinion is that of Dr. R. Jacob
Kaler, of Ozark Orthopaedics, who examined Plaintiff on October 4, 2010. (Tr. 237-238).
Plaintiff had complained to Dr. Kaler of left shoulder pain. (Tr. 237). He also reported that he
had numbness and tingling in both hands. (Tr. 237). Upon examination, Plaintiff had tenderness
of the anterior shoulder joint in the region of the biceps and subscapularis and “pec.”, and had
tenderness of the AC joint. (Tr. 237). Dr. Kaler reviewed Plaintiff’s MRI and pointed out the
increased signal of the subscapularis as well as the supraspinatus. (Tr. 238). Dr. Kaler noted that
Plaintiff had increased signal which he would call mild to moderate. He also opined that with
respect to Plaintiff’s AC joint, he would call it “severe.” (Tr. 238). Dr. Kaler reported that
Plaintiff had marked cystic formation with the AC joint, capsular hypertrophy, some mass affect
inferiorly, but not as much as he would expect based on the narrowing of the joint. (Tr. 238). Dr.
Kaler assessed Plaintiff with left rotator cuff tendonosis secondary to acromioclavicular arthrosis,
and injected Plaintiff’s left shoulder. (Tr. 238).
It is noteworthy that the ALJ did not include in his RFC assessment any limitations
relating to overhead reaching with his left upper extremity, although this limitation was included
by Dr. Hopkins in her RFC. The ALJ explained this absence by stating that based on Plaintiff’s
reports of improved shoulder pain after the injection by Dr. Kaler, Plaintiff had no limitations
of his upper extremities other than those determined in the ALJ’s RFC related to lifting and/or
carrying. (Tr. 21). The Court believes there is still a question regarding Plaintiff’s limitations
with his left shoulder and his ability to reach overhead, and that this matter should be remanded
to the ALJ in order to obtain a General Physical Examination and RFC from a physician. Once
received, the ALJ should then re-evaluate his RFC.
Accordingly, the Court concludes that the ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial
evidence, and therefore, this matter should be remanded to the Commissioner for further
consideration pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
ORDERED this 30th day of April, 2014.
/s/ Erin L. Setser
HON. ERIN L. SETSER
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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