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Mandera v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

January 3, 2017



         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, James Mandera, applied for disability benefits on August 5, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of November 8, 2011. (Tr. at 14). After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied his application. (Tr. at 24). The Appeals Council denied his request for review. (Tr. at 1). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Mandera has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court[1] reverses the ALJ's decision and remands for further review.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Mandera had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset date of November 8, 2011. (Tr. at 16). The ALJ found at Step Two that Mandera had the following severe impairments: right shoulder internal derangement post repair, status-post right shoulder arthroscopy, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder. Id. At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Mandera's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. Id. Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that Mandera had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with the following restrictions: 1) only occasional stooping, crouching, crawling, and kneeling; 2) only occasional overhead reaching bilaterally; 3) work where interpersonal contact is limited to little interaction, such as answering simple questions and responding appropriately to supervisors and co-workers; 4) interaction with the public is infrequent and not considered to be an essential job duty; 5) complexity of tasks can be learned by demonstration or repetition within 30 days, with few variables and little judgment; and 6) supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete. (Tr. at 18). Next, the ALJ found that Mandera is not capable of performing past relevant work. (Tr. at 22). At Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert ("VE") to find that, based on Mandera's age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform at the light level, specifically, small products assembler and machine feeder. (Tr. at 23). Based on that Step Five determination, the ALJ held that Mandera was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000). “Substantial evidence” in this context means less than a preponderance but more than a scintilla. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009). In other words, it is “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.” Id. (citation omitted). The Court must consider not only evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision, but also evidence that supports a contrary outcome. The Court cannot reverse the decision, however, “merely because substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision.” Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997) (quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)).

         B. Mandera's Arguments on Appeal

         Mandera argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. He contends that: 1) the ALJ failed to resolve in his written decision a possible conflict between the VE's testimony and the DOT; and 2) the RFC assessment failed to fully incorporate Mandera's mental impairments. For the following reasons, the Court finds that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence.

         Mandera injured his right shoulder on the job at Utility Trailer in early 2011 and sought treatment consistently thereafter. (Tr. 333-36). He underwent nine physical therapy treatments for shoulder pain in April and May 2011. (Tr. at 350, 363-74). He treated with Lortab for shoulder pain after an April 28, 2011 trip to the ER. (Tr. at 297-301). An MRI performed on May 9, 2011 showed possible intrasubstance tear. (Tr. at 351).

         On June 14, 2011, Mandera began seeing Dr. Rob Schechter, M.D., an orthopedist, for evaluation of his shoulder injury. (Tr. at 333-336). Mandera reported that he had continued to work at his full duty job in spite of pain, and that he asked for modifications when necessary; however, his supervisor was not sympathetic to his pain. (Tr. at 333). Dr. Schechter found shoulder pain and limited ROM which was exacerbated by activity. He diagnosed Mandera with pain in shoulder joint, rotator cuff syndrome, calcifying tendinitis in the shoulder, and bicipital tenosynovitis. (Tr. at 335). He gave Mandera a steroid injection, and limited him to light duty work. (Tr. at 336).

         On June 15, 2011, Mandera saw Dr. Jackie White, M.D., his PCP, for headache and vomiting, which he linked to the steroid injection. (Tr. at 393). She prescribed Phenergan. Id.

         On June 28, 2011, Mandera had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Schecter. He reported that treatment was not working: he was no better after the previous steroid injection, physical therapy, and pain medication. (Tr. at 329-332). Dr. Schechter noted the poor response to treatment and suggested shoulder surgery. On June 29, 2011, Dr. Schechter performed right ...

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