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Crane v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

May 23, 2018

CHRISTIE MARTIN CRANE PLAINTIFF
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DAVID A. SANDERS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Christie Martin Crane has appealed the decision of the Social Security Administration denying her application for Social Security disability or SSI benefits. She filed applications seeking benefits on March 21, 2013, alleging onset of disability on September 25, 2008.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to an inquiry into whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), and whether the correct legal standards were applied. 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g.); Falco v. Shalala, 27 F.3d 160, 162 (5th Cir. 1994); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence has been defined as “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Perales, 402 U.S. at 401 (quoting Consolidated Edison v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The Fifth Circuit has further held that substantial evidence “must do more than create a suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established, but ‘no substantial evidence' will be found only where there is a ‘conspicuous absence of credible choices' or ‘no contrary medical evidence.'” Harrell v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988) (quoting Hames v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983)). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner to decide, and if substantial evidence is found to support the decision, the decision must be affirmed even if there is evidence on the other side. Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1990). The court may not reweigh the evidence, try the case de novo, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner, Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th Cir. 1988), even if it finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision. Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 434 (5th Cir. 1994); Harrell, 862 F.2d at 475. The court must however, in spite of its limited role, “scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision ... and whether substantial evidence exists to support it.” Randall v. Sullivan, 956 F.2d 105, 109 (5th Cir. 1992). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by the evidence, then it is a conclusive and must be upheld. Perales, 402 U.S. at 390.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         In the decision denying benefits, the ALJ found that the claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged date of onset. At Step Two, the ALJ found Crane had the following severe impairments: hypertension, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, complications of chronic kidney disease, post-traumatic stress syndrome, anxiety and depression. He found that Crane's post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety caused her moderate restrictions in activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in social functioning and moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence and pace, but that she had no episodes of decompensation.

         The ALJ found that the claimant's alleged complications from gall bladder surgery in April 2013, did not cause more than minimal functional restrictions and it was not a severe restriction. While the plaintiff alleged degenerative disk disease, the ALJ found that x-rays showed only minor abnormalities and that the records did not indicate any abnormal gait or limited range of motion in the lower extremities. He, therefore, found her alleged back problems were not severe. He also found that her ADHD was not a severe impairment because it did not impose any restrictions on her activities of daily living or social functioning and only mild difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence and pace.

         The ALJ found that the plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of light work, with some restrictions. She can frequently handle, finger and feel with both of her upper extremities. He found that she could never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but could occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, kneel or crawl. Crane can maintain concentration for two hours at a time in an eight hour day. He found that Crane was limited to understanding, remembering and carrying out simple instructions and performing simple, routine repetitive tasks. She could maintain concentration for two hours at time and could occasionally interact with coworkers and supervisors but never with the public. Crane was also found to be able to adapt to simple, infrequent and gradually introduced changes in the work place.

         The ALJ found that Crane's residual functional capacity would allow her to return to past relevant work as a cushion gluer based on the testimony of the vocational expert at Step Four. The ALJ accepted the VE's testimony that Crane could also work as a warehouse checker, laundry folder and a production inspector. He found that she was not disabled through the date of the decision.

         ANALYSIS

         The plaintiff's primary complaint is that the ALJ failed to evaluate the evidence properly. Her arguments appear to be centered on the determination of her residual functional capacity and the consideration of the medical records of a treating physician. She also points out assorted alleged errors in her medical records and includes questions about parts of the decision she cannot understand, apparently asking if there has been an error. The court considers these areas of concern separately.

         1. Does Substantial Evidence Support the ALJ's RFC Determination

         The ALJ found that Crane could perform a range of light work with certain restrictions and limitations. Consistent with the definition of light work, he found that Crane could lift, carry, push and pull twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently and that she could stand and/or walk for six hours and can sit for six hours in an eight hour day. He found that she could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She could occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, knee or crawl. He found she could frequently handle, finger and feel with her hands. While there is evidence, which if accepted by the ALJ would justify a more restrictive RFC, this court may only reverse if there is no substantial evidence to support this physical RFC. The medical source statement of Dr. Bullwinkel, a consultative examiner, found that Crane could perform light work, limiting her to occasionally climbing, balancing, stooping, crouch and kneeling. He found that she had no manipulative or environmental limitations. While Dr. Fabianke diagnosed Crane with carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands, his records do not include any functional limitations. While Crane testified to substantial limitations secondary to the carpal tunnel syndrome, the ALJ resolve the conflict in the evidence and accepted Bullwinkel's findings. The physical RFC is supported by substantial evidence.

         The ALJ found that the plaintiff could understand, remember and carry out simple instructions and perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks. She can concentrate for two hours at a time during an eight hour workday. She can interact with supervisors and co-workers occasionally, but never with the public. He also found that Crane would be limited to a work environment with only simple, infrequent and gradually introduced changes to the workplace or work processes. This portion of the RFC is supported by the opinions of Dr. Masur who conducted a mental status evaluation. He found that Crane could do routine repetitive tasks, interact productively with supervisors and co-workers and could understand, remember and carry out instructions. Dr. Prosser found, based on a review of Crane's records, that she had moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence and pace, but that she could maintain attention and concentration for two hour ...


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