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Carrell v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

December 16, 2014

DEREK L. CARRELL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER AND OPINION AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION DENYING BENEFITS

ORTRIE D. SMITH, Senior District Judge.

Pending is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying his application for supplemental security income benefits. The Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

"[R]eview of the Secretary's decision [is limited] to a determination whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Substantial evidence is evidence which reasonable minds would accept as adequate to support the Secretary's conclusion. [The Court] will not reverse a decision simply because some evidence may support the opposite conclusion." Mitchell v. Shalala, 25 F.3d 712, 714 (8th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Though advantageous to the Commissioner, this standard also requires that the Court consider evidence that fairly detracts from the final decision. Forsythe v. Sullivan, 926 F.2d 774, 775 (8th Cir. 1991) (citing Hutsell v. Sullivan, 892 F.2d 747, 749 (8th Cir. 1989)). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla" of evidence; rather, it is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Gragg v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 932, 938 (8th Cir. 2010).

This case represents Plaintiff's fourth application for disability or SSI benefits. The clam was filed in June 2010 with an alleged onset date of November 19, 2006. The onset date was later amended to May 21, 2010 to comport with the prior denials. The ALJ originally rendered an unfavorable decision in March 2012, but the Appeals Council vacated the decision and remanded for reconsideration. R. at 97-98. The ALJ conducted another hearing and issued another unfavorable decision on June 12, 2013. The Appeals Council declined to review the decision, so the ALJ's June 2013 decision stands as the Commissioner's final decision.

Plaintiff was involved in a car accident in November 2006 which resulted in a fracture and nerve damage to his left (non-dominant) wrist. These injuries necessitated surgery. He has also experienced degenerative joint disease/avascular necrosis in both knees and his left shoulder, necessitating surgery in each joint. He underwent surgery in November 2010 (right knee), November 2012 (left shoulder), and February 2013 (left knee).

The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work except that he could only lift or carry five pounds with his left arm/hand and could not use his left arm/hand to push or pull. He was further limited in the use of his left hand in that he could "only occasionally grasp and cannot finger." Plaintiff was found able to sit, stand or walk up to six hours a day. Finally, the ALJ limited Plaintiff to "repetitive work with no interaction with the general public and no detailed instructions/tasks." R. at 17.

Plaintiff presents a multitude of arguments that revolve around one or both of two central themes: that the ALJ erred in failing to believe him and in failing to accord appropriate weight to his treating doctors. For ease of discussion, the Court will discuss these issues on a malady-by-malady basis, but before doing so the Court will set forth the appropriate legal standards. Analysis of a claimant's subjective complaints of pain is governed by Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th Cir. 1984) (subsequent history omitted):

While the claimant has the burden of proving that the disability results from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, direct medical evidence of the cause and effect relationship between the impairment and the degree of claimant's subjective complaints need not be produced. The adjudicator may not disregard a claimant's subjective complaints solely because the objective medical evidence does not fully support them.
The absence of an objective medical basis which supports the degree of severity of subjective complaints alleged is just one factor to be considered in evaluating the credibility of the testimony and complaints. The adjudicator must give full consideration to all of the evidence presented relating to subjective complaints, including the claimant's prior work record, and observations by third parties and treating and examining physicians relating to such matters as:
1. The claimant's daily activities;
2. the duration, frequency and intensity of the pain
3. precipitating and aggravating factors;
4. dosage, effectiveness and side effects of ...

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