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Cly v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

April 25, 2017

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



         Plaintiff, Cheryl Annette Cly, seeks judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying Social Security disability benefits.[2] In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge.

         Standard of Review

         The role of the court in reviewing the decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is limited to a determination of whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to support the decision and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Briggs ex rel. Briggs v. Massanari, 248 F.3d 1235, 1237 (10th Cir. 2001); Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017 (10th Cir. 1996); Castellano v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027, 1028 (10th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Even if the court would have reached a different conclusion, if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision stands. Hamilton v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495 (10th Cir. 1992).


         Plaintiff claims to have been unable to work since February 1, 2008 as a result of neck pain and dysfunction, hand problems, fibromyalgia, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, anxiety and depression.

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ made findings as to Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) for light exertional work performing simple tasks with routine supervision and no contact with the public. [R. 12-13]. The ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work, and based on the testimony of a vocational expert, stated that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform with her limitations. [R. 18]. The case was thus decided at step five of the five-step evaluative sequence for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988) (discussing five steps in detail).

         Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to consider her hand impairments and failed to provide sufficient reasons to reject medical evidence about her reduced grip strength. Plaintiff also asserts that the ALJ's decision cannot stand because, instead of including findings as to the jobs the ALJ found she can perform, the text of the ALJ's decision contains asterisks


         Consideration of Hand Problems

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in assessing her hand problems. During her carpal tunnel surgery it was found that Plaintiff has a congenital vascular problem, persistent median arteries, that was the underlying cause of her carpal tunnel symptoms. [R. 196]. Plaintiff states that the ALJ erred in failing to mention this impairment and failing to address its impact on her ability to perform work activities with her hands. Aside from pointing out the existence of this finding, Plaintiff does not address how the finding affects her functional abilities. No doctor assigned functional problems to the hand as a result of the vascular problem. The focus of a disability determination is on the functional consequences of a condition, not the mere diagnosis. See e.g. Coleman v. Chater, 58 F.3d 577, 579 (10th Cir. 1995)(the mere presence of alcoholism is not necessarily disabling, the impairment must render the claimant unable to engage in any substantial gainful employment), Higgs v. Bowen, 880 F.2d 860, 863 (6th Cir. 1988)(the mere diagnosis of arthritis says nothing about the severity of the condition), Madrid v. Astrue, 243 Fed.Appx. 387, 392 (10th Cir. 2007)(diagnosis of a condition does not establish disability, the question is whether an impairment significantly limits the ability to work), Scull v Apfel, 221 F.3d 1352 (10th Cir. 2000)(unpublished), 2000 WL 1028250 *1 (disability determinations turn on the functional consequences, not the causes of a claimant's condition).

         Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ failed to address the several references in the record to her significantly reduced grip strength on the left. This argument has merit. The ALJ appears to have relied on her surgeon, Dr. Watts', post operation observation that Plaintiff's grip strengths are unreasonably low to discount Plaintiff's complaints of continued hand problems. However, following Plaintiff's release from the care of her hand surgeon in August 2009, there are several findings of significantly reduced grip strength on the left hand. [R. 217, 281, 381]. The court finds that the ALJ failed to adequately consider and discuss the loss of grip strength on the left. The RFC for unlimited operation of hand ...

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