United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
BETH DEERE, Magistrate Judge.
The following recommended disposition was prepared for U.S. Chief District Judge Brian S. Miller. A party to this dispute may file written objections to this recommendation. An objection must be specific and state the factual and/or legal basis for the objection. An objection to a factual finding must identify the finding and the evidence supporting the objection. Objections must be filed with the clerk of the court no later than 14 days from the date of this recommendation. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); FED. R. CIV. P. 72(b). The objecting party must serve the opposing party with a copy of his objections. Failing to object within 14 days waives the right to appeal questions of fact. Griffini v. Mitchell , 31 F.3d 690, 692 (8th Cir. 1994). If no objections are filed, Judge Miller may adopt the recommended disposition without independently reviewing all of the record evidence.
Report and Recommendation
Daryl Wayne Pulver seeks judicial review of the denial of his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Mr. Pulver based his disability applications on problems with his back, left shoulder, left arm, and left leg. (SSA record at 59, 62) Mr. Pulver was forty-three years old at the hearing. ( Id. at 27) He lived with his girlfriend of twenty-five years and their fourteen-year-old daughter. ( Id. ) He had a tenth-grade education and past relevant work as a crane operator. (Id. at 28-29)
The Commissioner's Decision
After considering Mr. Pulver's applications, the Commissioner's ALJ determined that Mr. Pulver had severe impairments-back disorder and hypertension-but that he had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a reduced range of sedentary work.
Because the vocational expert identified jobs a person with Mr. Pulver's RFC could do, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Pulver was not disabled under the Social Security Act and denied the application. ( Id. at 17-18) After the Appeals Council denied Mr. Pulver's request for review, the ALJ's decision became a final decision for judicial review. ( Id. at 2-6) Mr. Pulver filed this case to challenge the ALJ's decision. (Docket entry #2)
Mr. Pulver alleged he had pain in his back which radiated down into his left leg. (SSA record at 30, 36) He testified he had problems with his neck and cervical spine, which affected his left, dominant arm. ( Id. at 31) He also alleged problems with arthritis in his knees, depression, and high blood pressure. ( Id. at 38-39)
Mr. Pulver complained that he could not sit for long due to pain in his back and left-leg numbness; he could stand for only a short period of time; and he used a cane after having fallen on numerous occasions due to pain in his back which caused numbness in his leg. ( Id. at 30, 32, 35-37) He described limitation in his ability to finger and handle, including problems holding a plate, grasping a fork, and fastening buttons. ( Id. 31-32) The ALJ found these allegations to be less than fully credible. ( Id. at 15-16) In this appeal, Mr. Pulver challenges the ALJ's credibility assessment.
An ALJ has a statutory duty "to assess the credibility of the claimant...." Nelson v. Sullivan , 966 F.2d 363, 366 (8th Cir. 1992). A reviewing court "will defer to an ALJ's credibility finding as long as the ALJ explicitly discredits a claimant's testimony and gives a good reason for doing so." Wildman v. Astrue , 596 F.3d 959, 968 (8th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). To evaluate Mr. Pulver's credibility, the ALJ was obligated to follow the required two-step process and to consider the required factors. Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984); see also SSR 96-7p, Policy Interpretation Ruling Titles II & XVI: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims: Assessing the Credibility of an Individual's Statements. Thus, the question before the court is whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's credibility assessment.
In discounting Mr. Pulver's credibility, the ALJ discussed the absence of medical evidence substantiating Mr. Pulver's allegations. The ALJ stated that diagnostic findings were inconsistent with Mr. Pulver's allegations of disabling pain. ( Id. at 16)
Specifically, the ALJ pointed to three things to support his credibility determination. First, he pointed to an April, 2012 nerve conduction study. ( Id. at 283-84) The ALJ recognized that the study showed a marked degree of nerve conduction velocity across the elbow in the left ulnar nerve that was suggestive of ulnar nerve compression at the elbow. ( Id. at 16) The ALJ went on to discount the findings, however, ...