United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
BRADLEY MURRAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Bettye Pritchett brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review
of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“the Commissioner”) denying her claim for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), based on
disability. The parties have consented to the exercise of
jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Doc. 28
(“In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(c)
and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have
a United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all
proceedings in this case, ... order the
entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment
proceedings.”)). See also Doc. 30. Upon
consideration of the administrative record, Pritchett's
brief, the Commissioner's brief, and all other documents
of record, it is determined that the Commissioner's
decision denying benefits should be reversed and
applied for SSI, based on disability, under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1381-1383d, on December 10, 2012, alleging
disability beginning on December 7, 2012. (Tr. 189, 195). Her
application was denied at the initial level of administrative
review on March 1, 2013. (Tr. 126-30). On March 14, 2013,
Pritchett requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ). (Tr. 134). After a hearing was held on August 25,
2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding that
Pritchett was not under a disability from the date the
application was filed through the date of the decision,
September 16, 2014. (Tr. 34-50). Pritchett appealed the
ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied her
request for review of the ALJ's decision on June 17,
2016. (Tr. 1-4).
exhausting her administrative remedies, Pritchett sought
judicial review in this Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c). (Doc. 1). The Commissioner
filed an answer and the social security transcript on
November 8, 2016. (Docs. 11, 12). On January 20, 2017,
Pritchett filed a brief in support of her claim. (Doc. 16).
The Commissioner filed her brief on May 12, 2017. (Doc. 24).
The parties waived oral argument. (Docs. 27, 29). The case is
now ripe for decision.
CLAIMS ON APPEAL
alleges that the ALJ's decision to deny her benefits is
in error for the following three reasons:
1. The ALJ's finding that Pritchett's carpal tunnel
syndrome, hypertension, and headaches are non-severe
impairments is not supported by substantial evidence;
2. The ALJ failed to apply the Eleventh Circuit's pain
standard correctly; and
3. The ALJ failed to develop a full and fair record by not
ordering objective medical testing for carpal tunnel
syndrome, such as nerve conduction testing. (Doc. 16 at p.
was born on April 23, 1961 and was 51 years old at the time
she filed her claim for benefits. (Tr. 189). Pritchett
alleged disability due to high blood pressure, high
cholesterol, and carpel tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 224). She
attended regular education classes and graduated from high
school in 1979. (Tr. 225). She worked from 1989 to 2001 as a
sewing machine operator, and she worked as a housekeeper in
2005. (Tr. 216, 233). She engages in limited daily
activities, such as sleeping, watching television, walking in
her yard, and light chores around the house in 15-minute
increments. (Tr. 241). She is unable to fix her hair, shave,
or button, zip, or unfasten clothes because of pain in her
hands. (Tr. 242). She cannot prepare meals because she drops
dishes and food. (Tr. 243). She can pay bills, count change,
and handle a savings account, but she cannot use a checkbook
because writing is very difficult because her “hands
hurt too bad.” (Tr. 244-45). She does not drive. (Tr.
244). After conducting a hearing, the ALJ made a
determination that Pritchett had not been under a disability
during the relevant time period, and thus, was not entitled
to benefits. (Tr. 34-50).
made the following relevant findings in her September 16,
The claimant's hypertension, high cholesterol, headaches,
and carpal tunnel syndrome are considered nonsevere
impairments. The claimant's symptoms and diagnoses of
hypertension and carpal tunnel syndrome are seen throughout
the record (Ex.'s Bl F, B2F, B7F, and lOF). The
undersigned carefully considered all of the evidence of
record and based on that review discussed in detail below, it
is clear that these impairments do not cause more than slight
limitation in her capacity to perform work activity.
Nevertheless, the undersigned considered the claimant's
impairments collectively, severe and nonsevere, in assessing
the claimant's residual functional capacity.
* * *
As for as the claimant's carpal tunnel syndrome, the
claimant testified at the hearing she has hand pain and she
has difficulty holding objects or writing. The claimant was
diagnosed as having bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome in or
about 2004, which was more than two years prior to the date
she stopped working; she earned 12, 006.00 in 2006 (Ex.'s
B10D and Bl0F). In 2010, the claimant's treating
physician wrote the claimant had reduced grip strength, but
he did not offer any specific descriptions of the
claimant's carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms (Ex. 7F/40).
The claimant's treating records at Yellow Bluff Rural
Clinic generally reveal more complaints of back pain than
hand pain. Since the claimant's onset date, she has not
been treated by a neurologist for her carpal tunnel syndrome.
She testified she takes pain medication for her condition.
She has not been referred for surgery for this condition. On
February 14, 2013, the claimant was examined by a
consultative examiner, Walid Freij, MD, who noted the
claimant, was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and she
uses splints on her wrists. Dr. Freij reported the
claimant's “diagnosis was made clinically based on
numbness sensation she had in the hands for that
duration.” Dr. Freij noted, “No nerve
conduction test was performed”(Ex. B2F).
The consultative examiner noted the claimant had positive
Tinel's sign in both wrists; however, the sensory and
coordination examinations were unremarkable (Id.).
The examination by Dr. Freij reveals the claimant has no
motor deficits, no atrophy, and no sensory deficits
(Id.). After completing the examination, Dr. Freij,
diagnosed the claimant with carpal tunnel syndrome. He opined
the claimant's “repetitive motion at the wrists
would have to be limited because of the possibility of carpal
tunnel, although that is not proven by electrical
testing” (Id.). While the records reveal some
complaints regarding carpal tunnel syndrome, the
claimant's medical treatment is not consistent with an
individual who suffers from severe carpal tunnel symptoms.
The medical records lack any nerve conduction studies and
there are no recommendations for surgical intervention. While
the claimant has been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome,
the evidence does not support that these symptoms cause more
than a slight limitation in the claimant's ability to
work. Even so, the undersigned has considered the
claimant's diagnoses and limitations from this condition
in the established residual functional capacity by limiting
the claimant to only frequent bilateral gross and fine
manipulation, which includes frequent handling and fingering.
* * *
4. After careful consideration of the entire record,
the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20
CFR 416.967(c) except the claimant is limited to never
climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She is restricted to
frequent bilateral gross and fine manipulation, which
includes frequent handling and fingering. With regard to
environmental limitations, she is restricted to no exposure