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Robinson v. Commissioner of Social Security Admin.

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

September 25, 2013



KENNETH S. McHARGH, Magistrate Judge.

The issue before the court is whether the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying Plaintiff Kellie Robinson's applications for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423, and Supplemental Security Income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C § 1381 et seq., is supported by substantial evidence and, therefore, conclusive.

As the Commissioner points out, Robinson "has challenged only the ALJ's determination as to the severity of her carpal tunnel syndrome and the ALJ's reliance, at least in part, on the medical opinion of Dr. Onamusi." (Doc. 15, at 3.)


On June 8, 2011, Plaintiff Kellie Robinson ("Robinson") applied for Supplemental Security Income benefits. (Doc. 11, Tr., at 33, 155.) Robinson's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr., at 33, 65, 101.) On December 22, 2011, Robinson filed a written request for a hearing before an administrative law judge. (Tr., at 104.)

An Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ") convened a hearing on May 8, 2012, in Cleveland to hear Robinson's case. (Tr., at 33, 49-64.) Robinson was represented by counsel at the hearing. (Tr., at 33, 51.) Nancy J. Borgeson ("Borgeson"), a vocational expert, attended the hearing and provided testimony. (Tr., at 49, 60-63.)

On May 23, 2012, the ALJ issued his decision applying the standard five-step sequential analysis[1] to determine whether Robinson was disabled. (Tr., at 34-35.) Based on his review, the ALJ concluded Robinson was not disabled. (Tr., at 33, 41.) Following the issuance of this ruling, Robinson sought review of the ALJ's decision from the Appeals Council. (Tr., at 26.) However, the council denied Robinson's request for review, as well as her request to reopen, thus rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr., at 1, 26.) Robinson now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c).

Robinson briefs two issues:

1. Whether the ALJ erred when he relied upon vocational expert testimony premised on an RFC [residual functional capacity] which excluded important manipulative and reaching limitations; the error prevents the ALJ from recognizing plaintiff should "grid out."
2. Whether the ALJ erred in relying on Dr. Onamusi's opinions which were used for the RFC, when the [doctor]'s limitations do not align with the RFC, and when the ALJ actually rejected Dr. Onamusi's opinions.

(Doc. 14, at 1.)


Robinson was born on December 27, 1961, and was 49 years old as of her alleged disability onset date. (Tr., at 155.) Robinson's highest level of education was high-school equivalent (GED). (Tr., at 52, 262.) She has no past relevant work. (Tr., at 40, 60.)


Robinson was seen by Brent Bickel, M.D., for wrist and shoulder pain, on January 14, 2008. She was diagnosed with some numbness and tingling consistent with carpal tunnel syndrome. Although she tested positive for carpal tunnel syndrome in two of three tests administered, Dr. Bickel noted she had no atrophy of her palm and thumb muscles. Robinson was given an injection of antiinflammatory medication for her shoulder pain, and an oral anti-inflammatory and a wrist splint for her symptoms. (Tr., at 393.)

Robinson followed up with Eric Friess, M.D., her primary care physician, on March 3, 2008. Dr. Friess found that Robinson was "doing well with her shoulder concerns." (Tr., at 388.) On a subsequent follow-up visit to Dr. Friess on May 20, 2008, Robinson continued to complain of joint and shoulder pain, "but is not yet ready for surgery." (Tr., at 385-386.) At a subsequent visit on September 9, 2008, Dr. Friess did not record any complaints about carpal tunnel syndrome, and noted that her shoulder was "doing better with improved ROM." (Tr., at 378.)

On her Oct. 22, 2008, visit with Dr. Friess, Robinson reported she had shoulder pain, which possibly occurred when she helped a friend lift furniture during a move. Again, no mention of carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr., at 374.)

At a March 5, 2009, routine follow-up visit with Dr. Friess, Robinson complained of left elbow pains that caused numbness in her left hand. (Tr., at 363.) Robinson presented to Robert Coale, M.D., on April 27, 2009, with left wrist pain with associated numbness to all fingers, and related left elbow and forearm pain. Robinson reported to Dr. Coale that the numbness was present nearly every day, and was worse with "pinching type activities." (Tr., at 358.)

Dr. Stephanie Casey diagnosed Robinson with carpal tunnel syndrome on June 8, 2009, noting that Robinson had an EMG [electromyography] which showed mononeuropathy of the bilateral median nerves and borderline left ulnar nerve entrapment. Robinson continued to report left wrist pain, but also reported that she was not wearing her splints. Robinson complained of decreased grip strength and numbness in all five fingers. Robinson was given a steroid injection in her left wrist. (Tr., at 354.)

At a September 14, 2009, follow-up appointment with Francisco Rubio, M.D., Robinson reported that the June injection improved her carpal tunnel pain, as well as the numbness and tingling. Robinson did say that she had not been compliant with the use of her night splint, which Dr. Rubio encouraged her to use to continue to experience relief. (Tr., at 338.)

Robinson's December 22, 2009, health screening for the state Department of Corrections in connection with her incarceration indicated that she had current medical conditions of hypertension, hypothyroidism, and Hepatitis C. Robinson did not report any disabilities or limitations, other than requiring a "low bunk order." (Tr., at 468; see also 469-474.)

Shortly after her release from state custody, on June 27, 2011, Robinson visited Nurse Practitioner Jean Knudsen to have medications updated for her conditions of hypertension, hypothyroidism, and Hepatitis C. Robinson did not report any symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome at that appointment. (Tr., at 477-478.)

On July 26, 2011, Robinson had a psychological evaluation conducted by Matthew Paris, Psy.D., relating to her claim for mental disability benefits. (Tr., at 273-281.) In the course of that evaluation, she reported that her medical problems included hepatitis C, high blood pressure, and chronic back pain. (Tr., at 275.) Dr. Paris determined that Robinson met the criteria for PTSD and dysthymic disorder, with a significant history substance abuse. (Tr., at 279.)

Robinson returned to Dr. Friess for a routine follow-up after her incarceration on September 2, 2011. Robinson was concerned that her thyroid dosing from prison was not accurate, and she asked about alternative medications for pain, expressing a willingness to see pain management staff. (Tr., at 335.) She complained of joint pain in her lower leg, however, not carpal tunnel. (Tr., at 336.)

On September 22, 2011, Robinson had a physical consultative examination with Babtunde Onamusi, M.D. (Tr., at 283-290.) Dr. Onamusi related that Robinson "presented with complaints of pain in the lower back, right shoulder and history of hepatitis C and hypothyroidism." (Tr., at 288.) Robinson reported "constant pain in the lower back, " which she described as severe. Robinson also reported radiation of pain down her legs, "with numbness, tingling and weakness in both legs." (Tr., at 288.) Muscle power and tone were found to be normal in all muscle groups. (Tr., at 290.) Dr. Onamusi noted that Robinson "has no trouble using the hands for gross or fine motor tasks, " and was "able to use the hands for fine coordination and manipulative tasks." (Tr., at 289-290.) Dr. Onamusi observed: "She had very limited range of motion in the back (effort felt to be suboptimal). She moaned and groaned and grimaced with examination..." (Tr., at 290.)

Dr. Onamusi's assessment was "chronic lower back and left shoulder pain, probably degenerative in nature, " and hepatitis C. Dr. Onamusi opined that Robinson "is currently capable of engaging in sedentary to light physical demand level activities." (Tr., at 290.)

Robinson returned to Dr. Friess on December 2, 2011, complaining of worsening left wrist pains. Dr. Friess noted her past carpal tunnel syndrome, and that she had been doing better, but cooking and walking the dog caused issues. She reported pains into the palm and numbness with twisting action. (Tr., at 439-440.) ...

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