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Wright v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

August 28, 2018

Eugenia M Wright, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JAMES A. TEILFEORG SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Eugenia M. Wright's (“Wright”) appeal from the Social Security Commissioner's (“Commissioner”) denial of her applications for disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. (Docs. 1, 18.)

         I. Background

         A. Procedural History

         Wright “protectively filed an application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income” in December of 2010. (Doc. 18 (citing AR 236, 432-33, 439-40, 441-48.)) In an initial determination, the Commissioner denied these claims. See AR 264-67. Wright subsequently requested, and the Commissioner denied, reconsideration of the initial determination. AR 271-79.

         Wright then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who took testimony from Wright and a vocational expert. AR 124-66, 280-82. On November 9, 2012, the ALJ denied relief. AR 233-48. Wright requested, and received, review by the Appeals Council, who reversed and remanded for additional administrative proceedings. AR 254-56, 345.

         On remand, the ALJ held two hearings and, on February 25, 2016, denied Wright's request for benefits. AR 14-34, 47-123. Wright requested, and was denied, review by the Appeals Council. AR 1-5, 429. Wright then timely appealed to this Court.

         B. The ALJ's February 25 Decision

         In its February 25, 2016 decision, the ALJ determined that Wright was not disabled. AR 14-34. In doing so, the ALJ utilized the Social Security Act (“SSA”) five-step sequential process for determining whether an individual is disabled. AR 18. At the first step, the ALJ determined that Wright had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 29, 2010. AR 20. At the second step, the ALJ determined that Wright suffered from four severe impairments: “[(1)] complex regional pain syndrome (primarily of the left upper extremity); [(2)] fibromyalgia; [(3)] depressive disorder with anxious distress; [and (4)] bipolar disorder.” AR 20. At step three, the ALJ found that none of Wright's impairments or a combination thereof “equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” AR 21-22. Prior to step four, the ALJ determined that Wright had the residual functional capacity to perform light work, and as relevant, found that Wright can “stand up to four hours, and walk up to four hours, of an eight-hour workday” and “can occasionally handle, finger, feel, and can never push or pull, with the left arm.” AR 23-24. At steps four and five, the ALJ determined that Wright was capable of working in her prior profession as a charge nurse or working as a storage rental clerk, a router, or a telemarketer. AR 31-33. The ALJ concluded that Wright had not been disabled from October 29, 2010 to February 25, 2016.

         In making the relevant medical determinations, the ALJ relied on opinions provided by Dr. Donald Fruchtman, D.O. (“Dr. Fruchtman”), who served as a consultative neurologist. AR 29-30. Dr. Fruchtman provided two residual functional capacity analyses on July 9, 2015. The first was a check-box-based analysis in which Dr. Fruchtman indicated, as relevant, that Wright could stand for four hours a day, walk for four hours a day, and never use her left hand for pushing, pulling, or overhead reaching, but could occasionally use that hand for reaching in all other manners and for handling, fingering, and feeling. AR 2520-21.

         In the second opinion, provided in narrative form, Dr. Fruchtman explained that Wright could frequently reach, however, such reaching could not be unlimited as Wright:

occasionally has to use her left hand, and that is definitely restricted. She should do her handling, fingering and feeling frequently, as opposed to unlimited for the same reason. Although she will be using her right hand the majority of the time, she still needs her left hand for most positions. It is difficult to have a position and be able to use just one hand. Therefore, handling, feeling fingering and reaching are limited to frequently based on the right hand. Left hand is never for reaching, handling, feeling and fingering because of the ultra-sensitivity and the fact that the median ne[rve] is definitely highly sensitive.

AR 2532-33. Dr. Fruchtman also opined that Wright could “stand and/or walk” for “4 hours and probably not more than an hour or two at any one time” in an 8-hour workday. AR 2531.

         The ALJ determined that “the first opinion is most consistent with record evidence, and is assigned great weight, ” while the “second opinion is assigned partial weight, but is afforded less weight than the first.” AR 30. In explaining its conclusion, the ALJ noted that despite “longstanding Agency policy that narrative explanations are preferred as compared with response[s] in check-box forms” where “[a]ll things [are] equal, ” it gave greater weight to ...


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