United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
ORDER REMANDING TO THE COMMISSIONER
Johnson applied for social security disability benefits with
an alleged onset date of May 1, 2013. (R. at 76). The
administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing and denied her
application. (R. at 29). The Appeals Council denied her
request for review. (R. at 1).
Johnson has requested judicial review, and the parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of the magistrate judge. For
the reasons stated below, this Court reverses and remands the
The Commissioner's Decision
found that Ms. Johnson had the following severe impairments:
bilateral arm/hand pain status post right carpal
tunnel/cubital tunnel release; bilateral knee osteoarthritis;
irritable bowel syndrome; obesity; depression; anxiety; and
borderline personality disorder. (R. at 16). The ALJ found
that Ms. Johnson had the residual functional capacity (RFC)
to perform sedentary work with limitations. She could only
occasionally climb ramps and stairs; occasionally stoop,
crouch, kneel, and crawl; could frequently handle and finger;
and only occasionally push and pull with the lower
extremities. She required a sit/stand option every 30 minutes
for position change; and could only have occasional contact
with supervisors, coworkers, and the general public. (R. at
19). This RFC precluded Ms. Johnson's past relevant work.
(R. at 28).
heard testimony from a vocational expert (VE), who testified
that the RFC assigned by the ALJ would allow Ms. Johnson to
perform other jobs, such as production assembler or document
preparer. (R. at 29). The ALJ held, therefore, that Ms.
Johnson was not disabled. (R. at 29).
Court reviews the decision of the ALJ to determine if it is
supported by “substantial evidence on the record as a
whole.” Wilcutts v. Apfel, 143 F.3d 1134, 1136
(8th Cir. 1998). This requires that the Court consider the
weight of the evidence in the record supporting the decision
and to balance it against any contradictory evidence.
Id. The Court cannot reverse the Commissioner's
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.
Johnson argues that the ALJ erred in finding her capable of
frequent handling and fingering and failed to include
sufficient mental limitations in the RFC. Because the
ALJ's finding that Ms. Johnson could perform frequent
handling and fingering is not supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole, it is not necessary to
reach her argument that the RFC fails to account for her
stated that the record did not support a finding of disabling
pain because Ms. Johnson's carpal tunnel and cubital
tunnel pain was being treated conservatively with pain
medication and also because no physician had opined that work
activity was contraindicated by the disorder. (R. at 24).
reasoning is flawed. The evidence clearly indicates that Ms.
Johnson attempted to resolve her issues through surgery in
August 2013. (R. at 452-53) Initially, she reported that the
surgery had resolved her numbness and tingling and had
relieved her pain somewhat. (R. at 449). By October 2013,
however, her pain had returned, and her physical therapist
reported that her grip strength in her right hand was 25% of
that in her left hand. (R. at 436).
December 2013, Ms. Johnson's therapist noted right
grip-strength of 15 pounds and left grip-strength of 45
pounds. (R. at 770). Average normal grip strength for a woman
between the ages of 35 and 39 is 66.5 pounds for the left
hand and 73.1 pounds for the right hand. Richard W. Bohannon,
et al., Reference Values for Adult Grip Strength Measured
with a Jamar Dynamometer: A Descriptive Meta-Analysis,
Physiotherapy 92, 11-15 (2006). Ms. Johnson's strength as
measured by her physical therapist falls well below those
averages, in a range that can be considered impaired.
Id. at 14.
the lack of an opinion from a treating physician that Ms.
Johnson requires manipulative limitations is not dispositive.
There is no treating physician opinion in the record, so it
is equally true that no treating physician has provided an
opinion supporting the ability to frequently handle and
finger. A treating physician's silence on the issue
cannot be used as evidence that a claimant is not disabled.
Pate-Fires v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 943 (8th Cir.
2009). The ALJ's reasoning is, therefore, flawed.
discredited Ms. Johnson's symptoms, in part, because she
was receiving conservative treatment for her arm pain. Aside
from the fact that Ms. Johnson had already sought and
received surgical intervention, her treating physician
specifically noted that he was “not sure there is much
I can do to help her.” (R. at 839). A nerve conduction
study in August 2014-a year after her surgery-found severe
entrapment of the median nerve through the carpal tunnel
bilaterally. (R. at 848).
Commissioner points to findings that Ms. Johnson's
surgical wound had healed without erythema or obvious
swelling and that she had normal muscle tone to demonstrate
that her pain had resolved. (R. at 751, 839). The
Commissioner does not demonstrate the relevance of these
findings to the nerve entrapment that characterizes carpal
tunnel syndrome, and these medical findings do not
necessarily correlate to Ms. Johnson's ability to use ...