United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
H. MCCARTHY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Cheryl Annette Cly, seeks judicial review of a decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
denying Social Security disability benefits. In accordance
with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have
consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge.
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).
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.
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).
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
of Hand Problems
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).
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 ...