Singleton v. Colvin
ORDER denying 16 Motion to Affirm. The decision of the Commissioner is reversed, and this matter is remanded to the Commissioner. A separate judgment will be entered. Signed by Magistrate Judge F. Keith Ball on 8/4/17 (dfk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
NORA S. SINGLETON
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:16cv396-FKB
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF
Nora S. Singleton filed for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
on December 7, 2012, alleging an onset date of October 25, 2011. Her application was
denied both initially and upon reconsideration. She requested and was granted a
hearing before an ALJ, which was held on May 6, 2014. On November 10, 2014, the
ALJ issued a decision finding that Singleton is not disabled. The appeals council denied
review. Singleton now brings this appeal pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Having considered the memoranda of the parties and the
administrative record, the Court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner should
be reversed and this matter remanded to the Commissioner.
II. Facts and Evidence before the ALJ
Singleton was born on September 14, 1964, and was 50 years of age at the time
of the decision of the ALJ. She has a high school education and past relevant work
experience as a poultry worker at Sanderson Farms. Singleton alleges disability due to
neck pain, back pain, shoulder problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, and hypertension.
Singleton has a history of deQuervain’s tenosynovitis of the right hand and
underwent surgery for the condition in 2009. R. 202,  at 205. In August of 2011,
she began having problems again and underwent several weeks of physical therapy. R.
194,  at 197. Upon discharge from physical therapy in September of 2011, she was
experiencing no pain. Id.
In 2011 Singleton injured her right shoulder at work, and in October of that year
she underwent rotator cuff surgery by Dr. Larry Field. R. 257,  at 260. She received
physical therapy following surgery and did well. R. 203,  at 206. By March of 2012,
an MRI of her shoulder showed complete healing with no abnormalities, and she had
normal range of motion, strength, and stability of the shoulder. R. 256,  at 259. Dr.
Field released her to return to her job at Sanderson Farms with no restrictions. Id.
In November of 2011, Singleton began experiencing numbness and tingling in
her right hand. Dr. Field diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome and prescribed a hand
brace. R. 248,  at 251; R. 250,  at 253. Nerve conduction studies and
electromyography performed in December of 2011 were normal. R. 191,  at 194.
By March of 2012, Singleton was complaining of neck pain and pain radiating to her
right shoulder and arm. R. 267-68,  at 270-71. Dr. Field ordered an MRI and
referred her to Dr. Jeff Laseter, a pain management specialist. Id.
impression was that her right shoulder and arm pain represented cervical radiculopathy.
Id. The MRI revealed moderate degenerative changes, most prominently canal
stenosis and foraminal narrowing at C4-C5. R. 265-66,  at 268-69. A cervical
epidural steroid injection by Dr. Laseter in April of 2012 did not give relief. R. 269, 
at 272. Dr. Laseter referred her to a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, Dr.
David Collipp, who ordered a cervical CT and myelogram. These studies showed
spondylosis with mild flattening of the cord from C4-5 to C6-7 and osteophytes from C34 to C6-7. R. 283-85,  at 286-89. There was no evidence of nerve root
compression. Id. Dr. Collipp’s assessment was degenerative cervical stenosis. R. 313,
 at 316. On August 10, 2012, Dr. Collipp completed an assessment of Singleton’s
work-related abilities. He opined that she could lift 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds
occasionally, could never climb, twist/bend/stoop, could never reach above shoulder
level, and could never walk or stand on slippery floors. R. 263,  at 266. He
indicated that she had no restrictions on fine finger movements, eye/hand movements,
and pushing/pulling. Id. It was Dr. Collipp’s opinion that Singleton could never return to
work at the poultry plant unless it were at the light duty level, which he noted was not
available for her at the plant. Id. Dr. Collipp continued to see Singleton through
December of 2012. Throughout this period, he directed that she was to perform light
duty work or to be off work. R. 262, 313, 264;  at 265, 316, 267. He emphasized
that she could never work on slippery surfaces because of the risk of neurological injury
were she to fall. R. 279, 262, 313, 278,  at 281, 265, 316, 281. At Singleton’s final
evaluation by Dr. Collipp, he noted that she was continuing to experience neck pain. R.
277,  at 280.
In May of 2013, Singleton began treatment by Dr. Ayanna Jenkins at the Copiah
Health Center. R. 295-96,  at 298-99. Treatment records through April of 2014
indicate that Dr. Jenkins treated Singleton for cervical radiculopathy, hypertension, and
major depression. R. 295-311,  at 298-314. Medications prescribed by Dr. Jenkins
include Tramadol, Celexa, Duexis, Prednisone, Benazepril HCTZ, Lyrica, Naproxen,
and Flexeril. In December of 2012, Dr. Jenkins administered a Toradol injection for
Singleton’s neck pain. R. 304,  at 307.
At the hearing, Singleton testified as follows. She worked at Sanderson Farms
from 1988 until 2011. R. 45, 39-40;  at 48, 42-43. When she began there, she
threw and hung chickens. R. 47,  at 50. Later she worked as a trimmer with an
inspector. Id. She also trained other workers in these positions. Id. After her shoulder
surgery, Singleton was unable to return to Sanderson because of Dr. Collipp’s
restriction that she not work on slippery floors. R. 40-41,  at 43-44. She explained
that she looked for other jobs, such as at McDonald’s, but that these also were
precluded because of the restriction regarding slippery floors. R. 41, 44;  at 44, 47.
She has not looked for a sitting job because her lower back prevents her from sitting for
long periods of time. Id. She testified that before her employment with Sanderson, she
had worked at Stuckey’s as a cook and loved the job but that she would not be able to
perform that kind of work now because of weakness in her hand. R. 45-46,  at 4849. Singleton identified her additional health problems as carpal tunnel syndrome,
frequent headaches, spasms in her shoulder, inflammation in her heel, and drowsiness
from her medication. R. 42-43, 48-49;  at 45-46, 51-52. Singleton wore a hand
brace to the hearing. She explained that she wears it only occasionally and was
wearing it that day because she had had pain in her hand the night before. R. 43,  at
Also testifying at the hearing was a vocational expert (VE). The VE classified
Singleton’s past relevant work as a poultry work as light and skilled. R. 52,  at 55.
The ALJ posed to the VE the hypothetical of a person of Singleton’s age, education,
and work history, who can perform sedentary work with the limitation that she not
perform overhead lifting and that her work be restricted to following simple instructions.
R. 52,  at 55. The VE responded that such a person could perform the jobs of small
parts assembler, bench assembler, electronics assembler, and electronics worker. Id.
In the second hypothetical, the ALJ added the necessity of frequent, unscheduled
breaks. R. 53,  at 56. The VE testified that there would be no work available for
such an individual. Id. The claimant’s attorney then questioned the VE regarding the
jobs identified in response to the first hypothetical, adding the additional limitation of
only occasionally performing fine manipulation. R. 54,  at 57. The VE responded
that such an individual would not be able to perform the jobs identified. Id.
III. The Decision of the ALJ
In her decision, the ALJ worked through the familiar sequential evaluation
process for determining disability.1 She found that Singleton had not been engaged in
In evaluating a disability claim, the ALJ is to engage in a five-step sequential process, making the
whether the claimant is presently engaging in substantial gainful activity (if so, a finding of
“not disabled” is made);
whether the claimant has a severe impairment (if not, a finding of “not disabled” is made);
whether the impairment is listed, or equivalent to an impairment listed, in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (if so, then the claimant is found to be disabled);
whether the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work (if not, the
claimant is found to be not disabled); and
substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date and that she met the insured
status requirements for Title II benefits through December 31, 2016. R. 16,  at 19.
At step two, the ALJ found that Singleton has the severe impairments of degenerative
disc disease, obesity, and carpal tunnel syndrome and the non-severe impairment of
depression. R. 16-17,  at 19-20. The ALJ determined at step three that Singleton
does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically
equals an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 18,  at
21. The ALJ found that Singleton has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform
the full range of light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b). Id. In determining
Singleton’s RFC, the ALJ stated that she gave significant weight to the opinions of
treating physicians Dr. Field and Dr. Collip that she could return to light work. R. 20,
 at 23. She considered Singleton’s testimony regarding her pain and limitations but
determined that they were not entirely credible. R. 19-21,  at 22-24. At step four, the
ALJ found that Singleton is capable of performing her past relevant work as a poultry
worker. R. 22,  at 25. The ALJ went on to make an alternative step-five finding that,
based upon Singleton’s RFC for the full range of light work, Rules 202.13 and 202.20 of
the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 4040, Subpart P, Appendix 2,
directed a finding of non-disability. Id.
whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing any other substantial
gainful activity (if so, the claimant is found to be disabled).
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The analysis ends at the point at which a finding of disability or non-disability is
required. The burden to prove disability rests upon the claimant throughout the first four steps; if the
claimant is successful in sustaining her burden through step four, the burden then shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995).
In reviewing the Commissioner’s decision, this court is limited to an inquiry into
whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner and
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Muse v. Sullivan, 925
F.2d 785, 789 (5th Cir. 1991); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990.
the ALJ’s analysis, and the portions of the record relied upon by her provide substantial
evidence for her credibility determination.
As one of her bases for reversal, Singleton challenges the ALJ’s finding that she
could return to her past relevant work as a poultry worker, arguing that it is not
supported by substantial evidence. The undersigned agrees. The ALJ stated in her
opinion that she gave significant weight to the opinions of Dr. Collipp and Dr. Field. Yet
the ALJ never acknowledged that Dr. Collipp stated unequivocally that Singleton could
never return to her job as a poultry worker. Dr. Field’s opinion also fails to support the
ALJ’s determination, as Dr. Field’s only treatment and evaluation of Singleton was for
her shoulder injury and surgery, and his only opinion was that by March of 2012, her
shoulder had healed sufficiently to allow her to return to work Dr. Field never rendered
any opinion concerning her cervical stenosis and radiculopathy or its effect on her ability
to work. Thus, the ALJ’s finding at step four is not supported by substantial evidence.
For these same reasons, the ALJ’s alternative step-five finding cannot stand.
The grids may be relied upon only where the ALJ finds that the claimant is capable of
performing the full range of work in a particular category. See Bowling v. Shalala, 36
F.3d 431, 435 (5th Cir. 1994). In the present case, there is no substantial evidence that
Singleton can perform the full range of light work. Dr. Collipp, one of Singleton’s
treating physicians and one of the two whose opinion the ALJ relied upon, identified
numerous limitations on her ability to perform light work, and the other, Dr. Field, never
addressed her exertional abilities other than to conclude that her shoulder had healed
after surgery. Thus, it follows that the ALJ’s finding of non-disability based upon the
grids is not supported by substantial evidence.
The absence of substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s decision requires that
the decision of the Commissioner be reversed and this matter remanded for a
redetermination of Singleton’s RFC and of whether there is any work available for her.
A separate judgment will be entered.
So ordered, this the 4th day of August, 2017.
s/ F. Keith Ball
United States Magistrate Judge
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