United States District Court, D. Arizona
A. TEILFEORG SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.)
“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.
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
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
The ALJ's February 25 Decision
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.
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.
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.
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 ...