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Soholt v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

November 19, 2019

KATE SOHOLT, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          William M. Conley District Judge.

         Plaintiff Kate Soholt seeks judicial review of a final decision by defendant Andrew M. Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, finding that she was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff argues that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) failed to adequately consider Soholt's subjective complaints regarding her right extremity limitations. For the reasons set forth below, the court will affirm the commissioner's decision and cancel the oral argument scheduled for November 20, 2019.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         A. Overview of Claim

         On February 11, 2015, plaintiff Kate Soholt applied for supplemental security income, alleging her disability began on February 11, 2000. (AR at 14.) Soholt's alleged disability is based on a number of conditions, but because her appeal to this court is limited only to the ALJ's consideration of her right extremity limitations, the court will focus its discussion on evidence related to those limitations.

         B. ALJ's Decision

         Soholt's disability claim was denied initially and denied again upon reconsideration. (AR at 14.) On appeal, ALJ Jeffrey W. Hart held a video hearing on March 16, 2017, at which Soholt appeared personally and by counsel. (AR at 14.) During that hearing, Soholt testified about various limitations on the use of her right shoulder, elbow, arm, wrist and fingers. (See AR at 30-66.) Regarding her right shoulder, Soholt testified that: after two surgeries, she could only lift about ten pounds with her right arm; frequently used her left to help lift; and “maybe at least once a day, ” she is unable to lift her arm up fully 180 degrees. (AR at 30-33, 44-46.) Soholt also testified that she had surgery on her right elbow, but that it did not fully heal, and she was unable to straighten it out all the way due to pain. (AR at 33, 46-48.) Soholt further explained that she could not repetitively reach out and grab things, and that she could only extend her right arm for about five minutes before she would have to take a ten-minute rest. (AR at 47-48.) With regard to her right wrist, Soholt next testified that at least four or five times during the day, it would lock up for at least thirty minutes during which time she could not use her wrist. (AR at 48-49.) Finally, Soholt testified to limitations in her fingers and her ability to grasp. (AR at 48-50.) Specifically, she described getting sharp pains in her thumb that make it difficult for her to move it, which affects her ability to grip and pinch such that sometimes she even has difficulty buttoning or zipping. (AR at 48-50.)

         After the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision in which he considered whether Soholt was disabled using the five-step sequential framework set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. (AR at 14-21.) In determining whether Soholt had any severe impairments at step two, the ALJ specifically addressed Soholt's right extremity limitations:

In addition, the claimant alleges disability due to carpal tunnel syndrome, a history of right rotator cuff repair and symptoms of fibromyalgia. However, when considered singly and in combination, these impairments do not cause more than minimal limitations in the ability to perform basic work activities and are therefore non-severe. . . . [T]he record indicates that subsequent to undergoing right shoulder arthroscopy, the claimant began physical therapy within four weeks of surgery with a good rehabilitation potential (Ex. 3F, 5; Ex. 9F, 18). In fact, by September 2016, diagnostic testing of the right shoulder showed evidence of only mild generative changes (Ex. 9F, 83). Lastly, as to the claimant's history of carpal tunnel syndrome, the record shows that the claimant underwent carpal tunnel release of the ulnar nerve at the wrist (Ex. 10F, 1). Subsequent to nerve release in her right arm, treatment notes from as recent as January 2017 indicate that the claimant reported no further numbness or tingling in her arms. Notably, the treatment notes indicate that the claimant was neurovascularly intact in her hand with negative impingement signs (Ex. 10F, 21).

(AR at 16-17.)

         At step three, the ALJ next concluded that Soholt did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR at 17-18.) And at the fourth step, the ALJ considered Soholt's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), finding that while her “medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, ” her “statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record.” (AR at 18-19.)

         Ultimately, the ALJ found that Soholt's RFC allowed her to “perform light work” with some mental limitations. (AR at 18.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded, “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform, ” and she was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (AR at 20-21.)

         C. Medical Record

         The medical record contains a number of references to Soholt's right shoulder, elbow and wrist pain. As an initial matter, treatment notes between 2013 and 2015 indicate pain and some loss of motion and function in Soholt's right extremities. Specifically, on August 8, 2013, Soholt consulted with a rheumatologist due to joint pain and other symptoms. (AR at 404.) Finding no evidence of a connective tissue disease, the provider noted that Soholt “gets occasional numbness in her hands, ” and suggested that carpal tunnel might be a cause. (AR at 404-05.) In November and December of 2014, Soholt also had three appointments with Dr. Daniel Mark for reported right shoulder pain, as well as right wrist pain and numbness. (AR at 398-401.) Mark's physical examinations of Soholt revealed 90 degrees of active forward flexion and abduction in her shoulder, along with diffuse tenderness and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome in her wrists, with the right more severe than the left, but no atrophy and 5/5 grip strength. (AR at 400-01.) On December 16, 2014 and January 20, ...

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