United States District Court, D. Minnesota
E. Osterhout and Edward C. Olson, for Plaintiff.
A. Marentette, for Defendant.
FRANKLIN L. NOEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Mark Armstrong seeks judicial review of the final decision of
the Acting Commissioner (“Commissioner”) of the
Social Security Administration (“SSA”), who
denied his application for disability insurance benefits
under Title II of the Social Security Act. This Court has
jurisdiction over the claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), 28 U.S.C. § 636(c),
and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The
parties have submitted cross motions for summary judgment.
See ECF Nos. 11 and 14. For the reasons set forth
below, the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment is
GRANTED, the Commissioner's decision is
AFFIRMED, and the case is DISMISSED
April 16, 2014, Armstrong applied for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social
Security Act, alleging a disability onset date of March 19,
2014. Administrative Record [hereinafter “AR”]
140, ECF No. 10. Armstrong's application was denied
initially on September 19, 2014, and upon reconsideration on
January 13, 2015. AR 65, 78. Thereafter, Armstrong filed a
written request for a hearing before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Roger Thomas, which was held on February
23, 2016. AR 30. On March 10, 2016, the ALJ denied
Armstrong's DIB application. AR 13-22, 28. On April 26,
2017, the SSA Appeals Council denied Armstrong's request
for review, rendering the ALJ's decision final for
purposes of judicial review. AR 1-3; see 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.981. On June 26, 2017, Armstrong commenced this
action, seeking an award of benefits, or alternatively,
remand for further proceedings pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). See ECF No. 1.
was fifty-seven years old on his alleged disability onset
date. AR 140. Armstrong claims that the following medical
conditions impair his ability to secure and maintain
competitive employment: osteoarthritis, narrowing of the
spine, bulging discs, pinched nerves, nerve damage in neck,
carpal tunnel syndrome, shoulder pain, knee pain, tremors,
tingling, and numbness in both hands. AR 199. Armstrong's
past relevant work includes employment as a truck-part
salesman, sterile processer at a hospital, and substitute
custodian for a school district. AR 201. This work was
semiskilled and its physical demands ranged from sedentary to
medium. AR 273.
testified on his own behalf at the February 23, 2016,
administrative hearing. AR 30-56. Armstrong was represented
by an attorney at the hearing, Natalie Ratzlaff. AR 30.
Ratzlaff made no objection to the admission of exhibits into
the record and was not aware of any other documents that
needed to be added to the file. AR 31. Armstrong testified
that he stopped working as a custodian because his hands
would cramp after using a mop for an extended period, and the
work was complicated by his hand tremors. AR 45. Armstrong
also testified that he can carry groceries, such as a gallon
of milk, but cannot completely squeeze and grip. AR 46.
Armstrong also testified that he suffers from poor
concentration and that neck and back pain, specifically a
pinched nerve, render extended sitting and standing painful.
neutral medical expert, Dr. Andrew Steiner, also testified
regarding Armstrong's physical limitations. AR 49. He
testified that Armstrong's neck, shoulder, and knee
conditions did not meet or medically equal the SSA listings,
and that Armstrong's “bilateral carpal tunnel
condition is not associated with the kinds of strength loss
or sensory loss that would get to a listings level or meet it
[in] a neurologic category.” AR 51. Steiner concluded
that the record “describes somebody functioning at the
light level as far as lifting and standing, ” with
various other limitations. AR 51-52. In addition, a
vocational expert (“VE”), Mitch Norman, testified
that based on Armstrong's age, education, skills, and
limitations, he could perform his past relevant work as a
truck-part salesman and hospital sterilizer. AR 54.
January 20, 2014, Armstrong's primary care physician,
Kurt Partoll, M.D., treated him for bilateral hand numbness,
hand weakness, and a finger infection. AR 281-82. Partoll
referred Armstrong for image testing of his brain to
determine the source of his hand numbness. Id. The
image testing showed no definite cause of Armstrong's
hand symptoms. AR 288-89. On August 12, 2014, A. Neil
Johnson, M.D., noted Armstrong's history of neck pain,
rotator cuff bilateral, left knee pain, sleep apnea, and
carpal tunnel syndrome. AR 300. On November 11, 2014, and May
26, 2015, Paul Dickmann, M.D., of Twin Cities Orthopedics
treated Armstrong for assorted physical pain. AR 311, 420.
During those visits, Dickmann similarly noted Armstrong's
history of neck, knee, and shoulder pain, as well as pain
from carpal tunnel syndrome. AR 311, 420. Dickmann treated
Armstrong with steroid injections for left knee pain and
noted that “using a lot of tools or providing a lot of
force or repetitive motion of the hands may be difficult[,
]” but that Armstrong “walked normally.” AR
311. However, Dickmann opined that Armstrong's
“gait looks stiff a little antalgic on the left.”
March 19, 2014, Partoll completed a SSA general medical
source statement. AR 385. Partoll stated that he began
treating Armstrong in October of 2009. Id. Partoll
opined that Armstrong would be capable of low stress jobs,
limited to “sedentary work, lifting up to 10 lbs.
occasionally, lifting and carrying small items,
standing/walking no more than two hours in an eight-hour
day.” AR 386. In his opinion, Armstrong was capable of
limited part-time ...