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Green v. Berryhill

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

January 11, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT


         I. Introduction:

         On April 28, 2015, Nicholas Green applied for disability income benefits, alleging disability beginning on April 28, 2015. (Tr. at 22) Mr. Green's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (''ALJ'') denied Mr. Green's application (Tr. at 32), and the Appeals Council denied his request for review. (Tr. at 1) Thus, the ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Mr. Green has requested judicial review. For the reasons stated below, the Court[1] affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Mr. Green had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of April 28, 2015. (Tr. at 24) At Step Two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. Green has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, right carpal tunnel syndrome, mood disorder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obesity, and an anxiety disorder (post-traumatic stress disorder). Id.

         After finding that Mr. Green's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 24), the ALJ determined that Mr. Green had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, with limitations. (Tr. at 26) He could only occasionally reach overhead bilaterally; he could only occasionally climb stairs or ramps, and only occasionally balance, kneel, stoop, crouch, and crawl. He could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he should avoid exposure to pulmonary irritants, such as dust, odors, or fumes; and he must avoid hazards such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts. In addition, he was limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, and only simple work-related decisions; contact with others should be incidental to the work performed, and the supervision should be simple, direct, and concrete; he would need a cane to ambulate; and he would need to alternate after standing for an hour to sitting for 45 minutes. Id.

         The ALJ found that Mr. Green was unable to perform his past relevant work. (Tr. at 31) At Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find, based on Mr. Green's age, education, work experience and RFC, that jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform. (Tr. at 32) Based on that determination, the ALJ held that Mr. Green was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         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, “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.” Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009). 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)).

         A. Arguments on Appeal

         Mr. Green argues that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ's RFC determination did not fully incorporate limitations stemming from carpal tunnel syndrome and PTSD.

         A claimant's RFC represents the most he can do despite the combined effects of all of his credible limitations and must be based on all credible evidence. McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). In determining a claimant's RFC, the ALJ must establish, by competent medical evidence, the physical and mental activities that the claimant can perform in a work setting, considering all impairments. Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 418 (8th Cir. 1996).

         As for carpal tunnel syndrome, Mr. Green first complained of right wrist pain on October 11, 2013. (Tr. at 1408-1414) On April 1, 2015, Dr. Mandeep Malhotra diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome and right median neuropathy. (Tr. at 1499-1507) Even so, Dr. Malhotra noted that those conditions did not affect Mr. Green's ability to work. (Tr. at 1505) A lack of physician-imposed restrictions may serve as a reason to discredit a claimant's credibility. Hensley v. Barnhart, 352 F.3d 353, 357 (8th Cir. 2003). Dr. Malhotra wrote that the effects from Mr. Green's carpal tunnel syndrome were minimal. (Tr. at 1507)

         A social worker, Kenyetta McIntosh, saw Mr. Green on July 22, 2015, and noted that he did not have any physical disabilities that precluded him from performing activities of daily living. (Tr. at 1480-1481) In fact, Mr. Green testified that he cooked for himself, did his own laundry, and mowed his yard. (Tr. at 58-59) He also cared for his children after school. (Tr. at 59) Such daily activities undermine his claims of disability. Shannon v. Chater, 54 F.3d 484, 487 (8th Cir. 1995); Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 967 (8th Cir. 2003).

         On February 5, 2016, Dr. Baker Stewart, M.D., diagnosed Mr. Green with mild right carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. at 1596-1602) Objective tests that show mild to moderate conditions do not support a finding of disability. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 738-39 (8th Cir. 2004). Dr. Stewart wrote that there was no evidence of ...

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