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Parker v. Colvin

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

November 20, 2013

JUSTIN LEW PARKER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

F.A. GOSSETT, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Justin Lew Parker claims in this Social Security appeal that the Commissioner's decision to deny him Social Security benefits is contrary to law and not supported by substantial evidence. The Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.

BACKGROUND

In March, 2010, Plaintiff applied for benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), alleging that since February 28, 2008, [1] he has been unable to engage in any type of substantial and gainful work activity due to nerve damage to his left arm; diabetes mellitus, type II, and related neuropathy; hypertension; chronic sore left foot; arthritis; and an ulcer on his left foot. (Tr. 160.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially (Tr. 73-81) and on reconsideration. (Tr. 84-88.) Subsequently, he appealed the denial to an administrative law judge ("ALJ").

Following an administrative hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 12, 2012, concluding that Plaintiff is not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. (Tr. 10-20.) In his decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's disability claim by following the five-step sequential analysis prescribed by the Social Security Regulations.[2] See 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1520 and 416.920. In doing so, the ALJ formulated Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC")[3] as follows:

[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to lift and carry up to ten pounds. He is able to stand or walk for up to two hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday. He is able to perform work that does not require more than occasional stooping, climbing, bending, kneeling, crawling or crouching. He has full range of motion of the left upper extremity and is able to use his arm/hand for frequent (not constant) handling, fingering or feeling. He is able to work in an environment that does not place him in concentrated exposure to wetness or temperature extremes of hot or cold.

(Tr. 14.)

Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration. Plaintiff's request for review was denied on November 20, 2012. (Tr. 1-3.) Thus, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.

DISCUSSION

A denial of benefits by the Commissioner is reviewed to determine whether the denial is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Hogan v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 958, 960 (8th Cir. 2001). "Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion." Id. at 960-61 (quotation and citation omitted). Evidence that both supports and detracts from the Commissioner's decision must be considered, but the decision may not be reversed merely because substantial evidence supports a contrary outcome. See Moad v. Massanari, 260 F.3d 887, 890 (8th Cir. 2001).

Plaintiff makes two arguments on appeal. First, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly formulated his RFC by limiting Plaintiff to "frequent" use of his left arm and hand. Second, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ had a duty to order additional medical examination or testing to assist the ALJ in evaluating whether Plaintiff was, in fact, disabled due to his arm and hand limitations or whether he had the ability to use his left arm and hand frequently.

I. Assessment of Plaintiff's RFC

Plaintiff's primary argument on appeal is that the ALJ inaccurately assessed his RFC by concluding that Plaintiff had "frequent" use of his left arm and hand. Plaintiff claims that there is no evidence from a treating provider that indicates that Plaintiff can use his left arm and hand frequently and that all of the medical evidence regarding his arm and hand indicates significant limitations. Simply put, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to evaluate Plaintiff's claim based on the substantial evidence of record.

The medical evidence shows that in 2006, Plaintiff was stabbed in his left shoulder. (Tr. 320.) When he sought treatment in February 2008, the physical therapist noted Plaintiff had some difficulties using his left arm and hand, and that he had some muscle atrophy. ( Id. ) The treatment notes reflect that Plaintiff had weakness and decreased sensation in his digits with a weak three-point pinch and inability to cylinder grip or key pinch, but that he retained a full range of motion in his shoulder and elbow. ( Id. ) ...


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