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Ann C. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 10, 2020

Kellie Ann C., Plaintiff,
Andrew Saul, Defendant.


          Katherine Menendez, United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 18; Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Def.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 21.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Kellie Ann C.'s (hereafter “Ms. C.”) motion for summary judgment be DENIED and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment be GRANTED.

         I. Factual Background and ALJ Decision

         Ms. C. first filed for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits on April 15, 2015. (R. 12.) Her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Id.) She timely requested a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Micah Pharris, which was held on March 28, 2018. (Id.) On May 30, 2018, ALJ Pharris issued an unfavorable decision. (R. 12-28.)

         A. ALJ Pharris's Decision

         ALJ Thomas followed the five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether Ms. C. is disabled. At step one, he determined that Ms. C. has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 31, 2013. (R. 14.) At step two, he determined that Ms. C. has several severe impairments: diabetes, migraine headaches, chronic fatigue, obesity, right carpal tunnel syndrome, mild degenerative disc disease of the cervical and thoracic spine, cognitive disorder not otherwise specified, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. (R. 15.)

         ALJ Pharris specifically discussed Ms. C.'s fibromyalgia, which he found was not a medically determinable impairment. He explained “[i]n addition to a physician's diagnosis of fibromyalgia, in order to establish a medically determinable impairment, the medical records must contain evidence that supports the diagnosis.” (Id.) He noted that SSR 12-2p describes one way that medical evidence could support a finding that fibromyalgia was a medically determinable impairment:

First, Section II(A) states fibromyalgia is established as a medically determinable impairment if the individual has all three of the following: (1) a history of widespread pain (in all quadrants of the body) that has persisted for at least three months (the pain may fluctuate in intensity and may not always be present); (2) at least eleven positive tender points on physical examinations found bilaterally (on the left and right sides of the body, both above and below the waist); and (3) evidence that other disorders that could cause the symptoms or signs were excluded, as other physical and mental disorders may have symptoms or signs which are the same or similar to those resulting from fibromyalgia.

(Id.) ALJ Pharris then went on to explain that the medical record did not support a finding of fibromyalgia as a medically determinable impairment. He noted that Ms. C. received her March 2016 diagnosis for fibromyalgia from Dr. Mary Beran without examination of any tender points. (R. 15.) The other references to fibromyalgia in the medical record only call it “presumed” fibromyalgia, without additional diagnostic examinations. (Id.) In one record that ALJ Pharris highlights, a rheumatologist noted that Ms. C. did not have “adequate tender points” for a fibromyalgia diagnosis. (R. 666.)

         ALJ Pharris next found that none of Ms. C.'s impairments or any combination of her impairments met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404 Subpart P, Appendix 1. Finally, ALJ Pharris found that Ms. C. has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work with some limitations, including frequently handling and fingering with the right hand, and being limited to “simple routine tasks” with “occasional superficial [(rated no lower than an 8)] contact with supervisors, coworkers, and members of the public.” (R. at 19.) ALJ Pharris determined that Ms. C. was unable to perform her past relevant work, but that there were other jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform, such as industrial cleaner, laundry worker, and counter supply worker. (R. 27.)

         II. Analysis

         Ms. C. challenges the ALJ's determination on three separate grounds. First, she argues that ALJ Pharris failed to consider the proper criteria when he determined that her fibromyalgia is not a medically determinable impairment. Second, Ms. C. argues that ALJ Pharris did not properly analyze the medical opinion evidence in the record. Finally, she asserts that the ALJ failed to consider her “stellar work history” when he assessed her credibility. After careful review, the Court determines that summary judgment in favor of the Commissioner is appropriate.

         A. Standard

         In reviewing the Commissioner's denial of Ms. C.'s application for benefits the Court determines whether the decision is supported by “substantial evidence on the record as a whole” and whether it results from an error of law. Gann v. Berryhill, 864 F.3d 947, 950 (8th Cir. 2017); Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind would find adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion.” Blackburn v. Colvin, 761 F.3d 853, 858 (8th Cir. 2014) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). The Court considers not only the evidence supporting the Commissioner's decision, but also the evidence in the record that “fairly detracts” from that decision. See Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929 (8th Cir. 2010). However, the Court does not reverse the Commissioner's decision merely because substantial evidence also supports a contrary outcome or because the record might support a different conclusion. Gann, 864 F.3d at 950. The Court should reverse the Commissioner's decision only where it ...

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