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Culpepper v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

February 4, 2019

Tracy Culpepper, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Tracy Culpepper has brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). This matter is now before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) of United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rules 73.02(B)(2)(a) and 83.VII.02 (D.S.C.). [ECF # 14]. The Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court affirm the decision of the Commissioner. This Court has thoroughly reviewed the record in this case and now issues the following Order.

         Statement of Facts and Procedural History

         This Court is tasked with reviewing the denial of Plaintiff's application for disability benefits. Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) on September 12, 2013, alleging a disability date of April 6, 2012 due to ulnar nerve damage in both arms. [ECF #9-6, Ex. 2E]. Briefly stated, Plaintiff's medical history in the record dating back to July 2007 reveal that she has been treated for many years for problems associated with her upper extremities. In 2012, Plaintiff began treating at Upstate Bone and Joint, where she was evaluated for complaints of bilateral arm pain and numbness. [ECF #9-11, Ex. 16F]. She was seen by Robert Finley, M.D. in 2012 who ordered a nerve conduction study after her x-rays returned normal results. An MRI on her cervical spine could not be completed due to discomfort but results should C4-5 had very mild diffuse annular disc bulge with no evidence of neural impingement. [ECF #9-11, Ex. 16F]. A few months later in 2012, Dr. Finley performed a left carpal tunnel release and medical epicondylectomy on the left elbow with ulnar nerve decompression. [ECF #9-11, Ex. 16F]. At her follow up appointment, Dr. Finley recommended she go back to work approximately one month later. [ECF #9-11, Ex. 16F]. In November of 2012, Plaintiff underwent right carpal tunnel release, decompression of the ulnar nerve, and medial epicondylectomy. At a follow up visit from this surgery, Dr. Finley's physician's assistant diagnosed Plaintiff with carpal tunnel syndrome and tardy ulnar nerve palsy. He prescribed Plaintiff Tramadol and placed her on light duty.

         On January 17, 2013, Thomas J. Fox, M.D. evaluated Plaintiff for complaints of neck pain and bilateral arm pain. Plaintiff's nerve conduction studies were within normal limits, though her EMG showed evidence of ulnar neuropathy at the elbow bilaterally. A day later, Dr. Finley evaluated Plaintiff for complaints of pain in right elbow, neck pain and numbness in the arm and forearm and dorsum of her hand. Her examination revealed pain with rain of motion of her neck. Dr. Finley ordered an MRI of her cervical spine and a repeat EMG. [ECF #9-7, Ex. 4F]. On February 14, 2013, Dr. Finley's notes indicate that Plaintiff's MRI results were normal but an EMG showed an abnormality with evidence of ulnar neuropathy at the elbow bilaterally. Dr. Finley diagnosed arm pain and numbness of arm and referred Plaintiff to neurology. [ECF #9-7, Ex. 4F]. On March 26, 2013, Plaintiff was evaluated by L. Edwin Rudisill, M.D. whose notes indicate tingling and numbness in the fingers bilaterally with Spurling's test, and handsd showing decreased light touch sensation. The notes further indicate Plaintiff tested positive for Tinel's test but had good range of motion in her joints. Dr. Rudisill diagnosed Plaintiff with persistent numbness and tingling in the ulnar distribution. [ECF #9-8, Ex. 9F]. In June of 2013, Dr. Rudisill evaluated Plaintiff for complaints of persistent bilateral elbow pain. Nerve conduction studies showed evidence of persistent ulnar neuropathy. [ECF #9-8, Ex. 10F]. Plaintiff was seen by Dwight Jacobus, M.D. in July of 2014 for complaints of ongoing pain in her wrists and elbows. Dr. Jacobus recommended Plaintiff be brought into pain management and further ordered a psychological evaluation to be sure that stability was present for pain management. [ECF #9-10, Ex. 13F]. Dr. Jacobus against evaluated Plaintiff in August and December of 2014. His notes reveals that an MRI from October of 2014 revealed degenerative changes secondary to arthrosis at ¶ 4-5. He diagnosed Plaintiff with carpal tunnel syndrome, neck pain, and cervical myelopathy. [ECF #9-10, Ex. 13F]. At the December appointment, Dr. Jacobus diagnosed Plaintiff with shoulder joint pain and knee pain. [ECF #9-11, Ex. 16F]. On April 28, 2015, a nurse practitioner evaluated Plaintiff and diagnosed her with anxiety and depression. [ECF #9-10, Ex. 15F]. In May of 2015, Dr. Jacobus diagnosed Plaintiff with neck pain, intervertebral disc disorder, and cervical radiculitis. [ECF #9-10, Ex. 13F]. An EMG on November 5, 2015 was mildly abrnomal and showed recurrent right tardy ulnar palsy. [ECF #9-12, Ex. 20F].

         Plaintiff applied for disability on September 12, 2013. Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. After she requested and was granted a hearing, the ALJ denied her claim on May 17, 2016. Plaintiff's request for a review by the Appeals Council was eventually denied, making the findings and determination of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. The ALJ reviewed all of the medical history in the record, as well as Plaintiff's testimony at the hearing. The ALJ subsequently came up with several findings.

         The ALJ's findings were as follows:

(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 6, 2012 (20 C.F.R. 404.1571 et seq.).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments: bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and cervical degenerative disc disease (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c)).
(4) The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) except the claimant can frequently handle, finger, and feel bilaterally. She can do no climbing of ladders and have no exposure to dangerous machinery, unprotected heights, or extreme cold.
(6) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. 404.1565).
(7) The claimant was born on January 31, 1969 and was 43 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 C.F.R. 404.1563).
(8)The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. 404.1564).
(9)Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job ...

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