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Clark v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

August 6, 2019



          William H. Baughman, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge.


         Before me[1] is an action by Cynthia Clark under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for supplemental security income.[2] Because substantial evidence supports the ALJ's no disability finding, the ALJ's decision is affirmed.

         Issues Presented

         This case presents the following issues for decision:

. The ALJ erred in failing to consider Clark's “well-established carpal tunnel syndrome (“CTS”) as ‘severe.'”[3]
. The ALJ erred in concluding that Clark retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy by failing to properly consider the opinions of treating rheumatologist Dr. Edens and examining source Dr. Bradford, as well as by failing to properly consider Clark's “well-supported upper extremity limitations.”[4]


         The Sixth Circuit in Buxton v. Halter reemphasized the standard of review applicable to decisions of the ALJs in disability cases:

Congress has provided for federal court review of Social Security administrative decisions. However, the scope of review is limited under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g): “The findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . .” In other words, on review of the Commissioner's decision that claimant is not totally disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, the only issue reviewable by this court is whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is “‘more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'”
The findings of the Commissioner are not subject to reversal merely because there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion. This is so because there is a “zone of choice” within which the Commissioner can act, without the fear of court interference.[5]

         Viewed in the context of a jury trial, all that is necessary to affirm is that reasonable minds could reach different conclusions on the evidence. If such is the case, the Commissioner survives “a directed verdict” and wins.[6] The court may not disturb the Commissioner's findings, even if the preponderance of the evidence favors the claimant.[7]

         I will review the findings of the ALJ at issue here consistent with that deferential standard.

         A. Step Two challenge

         Clark maintains the ALJ erred in not finding her CTS a severe impairment at Step Two of the sequential, five-step disability analysis. But the ALJ discussed Clark's hand symptoms and CTS throughout the remainder of the steps in the analysis, [8] and as such, any error is harmless.[9]

         B. Step Four/Step Five challenge

         The ALJ found Clark had the RFC to perform light work as defined in the regulations, with additional limitations.[10] In pertinent part, she frequently can use bilateral hand controls, handle bilaterally, and push and pull with her upper extremities.[11] Clark claims the ALJ erred in the weight assigned to the opinions of Drs. Bradford and Edens.[12]

         1. Dr. Bradford

         Consulting examiner Dr. Bradford found Clark had abnormal grasp on the right and left.[13] She noted that Clark was “unable to open doors on some days.”[14] All range of motion testing was normal.[15] Dr. Bradford's exam findings included hand clasps 4/5, tenderness at the base of both thumbs, full range of motion at all hand joints, full range of motion for both lower extremities, and normal stability, strength, and muscle tone for both lower extremities.[16] Dr. Bradford commented that Clark was “unable to perform maneuvers for CTS.”[17] In a medical source statement, Dr. Bradford opined:

Claimant alleges pain in her hands worse in the thumb and base of the thumb. Pain is achy and throbbing and worse at night but now it's all the time. She has trouble turning doorknobs but hand use is otherwise normal. On exam today she does appear to be in pain from her hands. She hold [sic] her hand up in front of her at all times and especially avoids using the left one. There were no clinical signs of RA. There was tenderness at the base of both thumbs. She was unable to perform Phalen and Tinel and no response was elicited when the median nerves were tapped.
In my medical opinion I do believe she has hand pain not RA. Her pain seems more neuropathic. She should be restricted from using her hands until a diagnosis is confirmed and treatment instituted.[18]

         The ALJ assigned Dr. Bradford's opinion partial weight.[19] The ALJ explained the ...

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