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Chapman v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

December 17, 2019

CARISA L. CHAPMAN PLAINTIFF
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Lanny King, Magistrate Judge United States District Court

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's complaint seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the final decision of the Commissioner denying her claim for Social Security disability benefits. The fact and law summaries of Plaintiff and Defendant are at Dockets # 13 and 17. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge to determine this case, with any appeal lying before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. (Docket # 9.)

         The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that Plaintiff is not disabled because she retains the ability to perform a significant number of light, unskilled jobs in the national economy. (Administrative Record (AR) at 32-33.) Because substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff can perform light work, the Court will REMAND this matter to the Commissioner for a new decision.

         Background fact and procedural history

         On December 1, 2015, Plaintiff filed a claim for Social Security disability benefits. (AR at 21.)

         On December 31, 2015, Plaintiff's treating APRN FNP-BC (advanced practice registered nurse, family nurse practitioner, board certified), Michael L. Pendleton, Sr., wrote a “to whom it may concern” letter regarding Plaintiff's disability claim. APRN Pendleton's opined that Plaintiff's neurological conditions render her “not able to safely perform the most remedial or routine of tasks an employer might ask from her.” (AR at 1146.)

         On May 18, 2016, neurophysiology lab director Amir Zia, M.D., performed electromyographic (EMG) studies of the muscles of Plaintiff's upper and lower extremities. (AR at 1218.) The EMG studies revealed the presence of: bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and sensory predominant neuropathy in Plaintiff's lower extremities, but no evidence of cervical or lumbosacral radiculopathy. (Id.)

         On May 23, 2016, the Commissioner's non-examining program physician, Sudhideb Mukherjee, found that Plaintiff has the ability to perform a limited range of medium work. (AR at 594-97.) Dr. Mukherjee based his opinion on the available medical evidence. However, there is no indication that Dr. Mukherjee was aware of Dr. Zia's EMG findings (obtained only days earlier).[1]

         In June 2016, APRN Pendleton completed the Physical Capacities Evaluation form (a check-box form), finding that Plaintiff has maximal limitation in every functional area scored on the form. (AR at 1379.) For example, APRN Pendleton found that Plaintiff can sit, stand and/or walk 0 hours in an 8-hour workday; she can never lift any weight; she cannot use her hands for simple grasping, pushing, pulling, or fine manipulation; she cannot use her feet for repetitive movements (e.g., operating foot controls); and she can never bend, squat, crawl, climb, or reach above shoulder level. (Id.)[2]

         In December 2017, a cervical MRI revealed the presence of: residuals from prior anterior fusion surgery at C5 through C7; at C5-C6, “left paracentral disc herniation/spur resulting in cord compression and central stenosis”; “multilevel hypertrophic discogenic disease with component of central stenosis suspected at C3-C4.” (AR at 1542.)

         In December 2017, a lumbar MRI revealed: “disc bulge at L4-L5 and disc protrusion at L5-S1 with facet arthropathy resulting in components of mild central stenosis.” (AR at 1543.)

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the ability to perform a limited range of light work. (AR at 26-27.) In so finding, the ALJ declined to give “any weight” to APRN Pendleton's medical/vocational conclusion of Plaintiff's inability to safely perform even routine tasks and gave “minimal weight” to APRN Pendleton's findings of maximal limitation on the physical assessment form because the finding are not “well supported by the record as a whole.” (AR at 31 referencing AR at 1146, 1379.) The ALJ gave Dr. Mukherjee's findings, which allowed performance of medium work, “partial weight” but nevertheless “less [than complete] weigh because evidence received at the hearing level, including treatment records and imaging [i.e., the cervical and lumbar MRIs and the EMG], supports finding the claimant has severe physical impairments that warrant greater physical limitations” than found by Dr. Mukherjee. (AR at 30.)

         The evidence after Dr. Mukherjee's opinion, which the ALJ cited as supporting a finding that Plaintiff is limited to light (as opposed to medium) work, consists of the cervical and lumbar MRI results and the EMG results noted above.

         Substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's finding that ...


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