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Koller v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

March 31, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          T. Lane Wilson United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Robert Koller seeks judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his claim for disability insurance benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“SSA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, and 1382c(a)(3). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. 10). Any appeal of this decision will be directly to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.


         Plaintiff argues (1) that the ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) is not supported by substantial evidence because the record supports the inclusion of limitations to plaintiff's left arm; (2) that the ALJ erred in weighing the opinions of Dr. Ricardo Castellon and Dr. Derrise Garner; and (3) that the ALJ made improper credibility findings. (Dkt. 19).


         In reviewing a decision of the Commissioner, the Court is limited to determining whether the Commissioner has applied the correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. See id. The Court's review is based on the record, and the Court will “meticulously examine the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Id. The Court may neither re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005). Even if the Court might have reached a different conclusion, if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision stands. See White v. Barnhart, 287 F.3d 903, 908 (10th Cir. 2002).


         Substantial Evidence - RFC Findings for Plaintiff's Left Arm

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to include limitations for his left arm, which is his dominant arm. (Dkt. 19). Plaintiff contends that the following evidence supports such limitations: a 2010 EMG study showing moderate nerve entrapment in the left wrist; the consultative examiner's finding that plaintiff had decreased arm and grip strength; the agency physician's opinion that plaintiff should use his left arm only occasionally; and plaintiff's testimony that he could not use his left arm for very long or lift more than ten pounds. Id. Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ was required to find limitations because he found that plaintiff has the severe impairment of left arm and shoulder pain. Id.

         The Commissioner argues that the medical evidence shows a significant number of subjective complaints but little objective evidence to support physical limitations in the left arm. (Dkt. 23).

         At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff has the severe impairment of left shoulder and arm pain. (R. 17). The ALJ noted that an EMG identified nerve entrapment in the left wrist in April 2010. (R. 22). The ALJ also noted that plaintiff had a positive Tinel's sign in both wrists in April 2012, but “as a whole, ” plaintiff showed no signs of dysfunction. (R. 23). The ALJ noted plaintiff's complaint of left shoulder pain, and his physician's recommendation that he perform stretching and strengthening exercises for the rotator cuff. Id.

         The ALJ discussed plaintiff's October 2012 consultative physical examination, which showed that plaintiff's left hand strength was 3/5. (R. 24). Plaintiff also complained of pain when he raised his left arm, but plaintiff had normal range of motion. Id. The consultative examining physician assessed plaintiff with left shoulder pain following a history of surgery and opined that it affected plaintiff's ability to lift with his left arm. Id. The ALJ noted that the treatment notes from the clinic show no “consistent dysfunction in strength or coordination of the upper extremities.” (R. 28). The ALJ also found that plaintiff's activities were inconsistent with his complaints of left arm pain, citing a treatment note in which plaintiff complained of pain in his left ribs (emphasis in the ALJ decision) after using a crank to lift a boat. (R. 26). The ALJ also cited the medical findings that plaintiff could oppose his left finger and thumb without difficulty and could do beadwork. (R. 26, 28).

         The ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not as limited in the use of his left arm as he complained. The ALJ found that plaintiff's left arm limited his ability to climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, but he was otherwise able to meet the requirements of light work with respect to his left arm. (R. 28-29).

         Contrary to plaintiff's claims, the ALJ included left arm limitations. Therefore, there is no merit to plaintiff's argument that the ALJ failed to ...

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