United States District Court, D. South Carolina
RONALD K. WHITE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
BRISTOW MARCHANT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner wherein he was denied disability
benefits. This case was referred to the undersigned for a
report and recommendation pursuant to Local Rule
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) in October
2012, alleging disability beginning on June 17, 2012, due to
injuries from a motorcycle accident; muscle spasms; fractured
tibia, fibula in right ankle; and injuries to his hip, back,
neck, and right shoulder. (R.pp. 18, 302, 392).
Plaintiff's application was denied both initially and
upon reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on
October 17, 2014. (R.pp. 60-88). An ALJ thereafter denied
Plaintiff's claim in a decision issued January 14, 2015.
(R.pp. 118-126). Plaintiff appealed, and the Appeals Council
remanded the case with instructions to obtain additional
evidence regarding Plaintiff's impairments; to further
evaluate his bilateral hand impairment at step two of the
sequential evaluation process; to give further consideration
to Plaintiff's maximum residual functional capacity (RFC)
and provide an appropriate rationale with specific references
to evidence of record in support of the assessed limitations;
to further evaluate Plaintiff's alleged symptoms and
provide rationale in accordance with the disability
regulations pertaining to evaluation of symptoms and
pertinent circuit case law; and, if warranted by the expanded
record, to obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational
expert (VE) to clarify the effect of the assessed limitations
on Plaintiff's occupational base. (R.pp. 134-135).
second hearing was then held before the ALJ on August 26,
2016. (R.pp. 36-59). The ALJ thereafter again denied
Plaintiff's claim in a decision issued December 2, 2016.
(R.pp. 18-28). This time the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for a review of the ALJ's
decision, thereby making the December 2, 2016 determination
of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R.pp.
1-6). Plaintiff then filed this action in United States
District Court, asserting that there is not substantial
evidence to support the ALJ's decision, and that the
decision should be reversed with an award of benefits or
alternatively remanded for further consideration of his
claim. The Commissioner contends that the decision to deny
benefits is supported by substantial evidence, and that
Plaintiff was properly found not to be disabled.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court's scope of review is
limited to (1) whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the
ultimate conclusions reached by the Commissioner are legally
correct under controlling law. Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); Richardson v.
Califano, 574 F.2d 802, 803 (4th Cir. 1978); Myers
v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982-983 (4th Cir. 1980). If
the record contains substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's decision, it is the court's duty to
affirm the decision. Substantial evidence has been defined
evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to
support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a
mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance. If there is evidence to justify
refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then
there is “substantial evidence.”
Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (citing Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966)); see also
Hepp v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 798, 806 (8th Cir.
2008)[Nothing that the substantial evidence standard is even
“less demanding than the preponderance of the evidence
Court lacks the authority to substitute its own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Laws, 368 F.2d at 642.
“[T]he language of [405(g)] precludes a de novo
judicial proceeding and requires that the court uphold the
[Commissioner's] decision even should the court disagree
with such decision as long as it is supported by substantial
evidence.” Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d
773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).
medical records show that he was treated for injuries,
including a right ankle fracture for which he underwent
surgery (closed reduction performed by orthopedic surgeon Dr.
Langdon Hartsock), at the Medical University of South
Carolina (MUSC) after a motorcycle accident on June 17, 2012
(his alleged disability onset date). (R.pp. 610-616,
652-660). These medical records also indicate that Plaintiff
had some injury to his right fingers. (R.p. 613).
August 7, 2012, Plaintiff had a follow up appointment as to
his right ankle with Dr. Hartsock at MUSC Health. It was
noted during this visit that Plaintiff complained of some
triggering of his index finger, although it was not
triggering that day. (R.p. 627). In October 2012, Dr.
Hartsock's examination revealed that Plaintiff's
right upper extremity showed positive Tinel's sign at the
elbow, “[m]ildly positive one on the palmar side of
wrist, and “subjective decreased sensation in the
distribution of ulnar nerve.” (R.p. 661). Dr. Hartsock
assessed Plaintiff with “[n]eck pain and right upper
extremity numbness and tingling with possible cervical
radiculopathy versus cubital tunnel syndrome and/or possible
mild carpel tunnel syndrome.” Id.
October 11, 2012, Dr. John M. Ernst of Orthopaedic
Specialists of Charleston/Roper St. Francis examined
Plaintiff for complaints of right wrist pain and noted that
Plaintiff had “[m]ild tenderness distal radius and
ulna, radiocarpal, radioulnar ulnar carpal joints and dorsal
carpus”, and that Plaintiff's thumb carpometacarpal
(CMC) was tender with positive grind and crepitus. Dr. Ernst
recommended a neurological consultation, thought Plaintiff
might need to consider diagnostic wrist arthroscopy in the
future, and noted that after cervical work-up Plaintiff might
consider selective radiocarpal and CMC joint injections.
(R.pp. 753-55). An electromyography/nerve conduction study on
October 31, 2012 indicated:
[Plaintiff] has had pain in his neck. In the right upper
extremity, he has some numbness and tingling in digits 3, 4
and 5. Occasionally, he has constant weakness at the shoulder
and pain in the wrist. Exam shows some guarding of the right
upper extremity, but decreased strength at the right shoulder
compared with the left. There is some weakness at the finger
flexors on the right compared with the left. There is
decreased sensation in digits 3, 4 and 5 on the right dorsum
of the hand.
(R.pp. 817-818). The results were normal in Plaintiff's
arm, but an evaluation of Plaintiff's neck could not be
made because Plaintiff was unable to relax. (R.pp. 817-818)
January 31, 2013, Plaintiff complained to Dr. Emily Darr at
MUSC about radiating pain in the C6 and C7 distribution in
his right arm with grip and wrist weakness. Dr. Darr noted
“[g]rip and WE [wrist extensor] weakness on the right
compared to left”, and recommended a right C6 selective
nerve root block. (R.p. 669).
February 21, 2013, state agency physician Dr. Mary Lang
reviewed Plaintiff's records and opined that Plaintiff
could perform a range of light work with limitations of frequent
climbing of ramps/stairs and kneeling; occasional climbing of
ladders/ropes/scaffolds, stooping, crouching, and crawling;
and avoidance of concentrated exposure to hazards. Dr. Lang
also opined that Plaintiff was limited to frequent pushing
and pulling (including operation of hand and/or foot controls
as to his right upper and lower extremities) and was limited
to frequent reaching overhead, handling, and fingering on the
right. (R.pp. 94-97).
April 1, 2013, Dr. Ernst assessed Plaintiff with joint and
wrist pain and numbness and also found:
right thumb Eaton grade 2-3 [on a scale of 1 to 4] CMC joint
osteoarthritis. Persistent right wrist ulnar carpal pain.
Peripheral paresthesias appear to be more radicular rather
than peripheral compressive neuropathy/awaiting nerve studies
for review. [R]ecommend palmar-based opponens splint.
We'll review nerve studies he received. Patient may