United States District Court, D. Colorado
ROBERT B. JARRELL, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Brooke Jackson, United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on review of the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) Commissioner's
decision denying claimant Robert B. Jarrell's application
for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security
Income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act.
Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the
reasons explained below, the Court AFFIRMS the
appeal is based upon the administrative record and the
parties' briefs. In reviewing a final decision by the
Commissioner, the District Court examines the record and
determines whether it contains substantial evidence to
support the Commissioner's decision and whether the
Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Winfrey
v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1019 (10th Cir. 1996). A
decision is not based on substantial evidence if it is
“overwhelmed by other evidence in the record.”
Bernal v. Bowen, 851 F.2d 297, 299 (10th Cir. 1988).
Substantial evidence requires “more than a scintilla,
but less than a preponderance.” Wall v.
Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009). Evidence
is not substantial if it “constitutes mere
conclusion.” Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d
1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). In addition, reversal may be
appropriate if the Commissioner applies an incorrect legal
standard or fails to demonstrate that the correct legal
standards have been followed. Winfrey, 92 F.3d at
Jarrell was born in 1952 and is now 65 years old.
See R. 96. He has not completed any formal education
beyond the eleventh grade. R. 98, 283. Mr. Jarrell's work
history includes time spent as a delivery driver, a
production supervisor on a manufacturing line, a painter, and
a carpenter. R. 98-101, 342. He was most recently employed as
a deck builder in Ogden, Utah but has not been employed since
that project ended on August 1, 2013. R. 98, 282. Mr. Jarrell
moved from Utah to Colorado soon after the job ended. R. 282.
Initially homeless and sleeping on the streets of Fort
Collins, Mr. Jarrell has since secured low-income housing in
Denver. R. 97, 246, 314.
Mr. Jarrell was injured in an auto accident and received
treatment for a back injury. R. 373. Nearly twenty years
later he was diagnosed with depression and an anxiety
disorder. Id. In 2010 Mr. Jarrell was diagnosed with
gout. R. 413-14. His health history also reflects alcohol,
tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine use. R. 354,
375. Significantly, since 2000 Mr. Jarrell has suffered from
Dupuytren's contractures that restrict his ability to
extend the fourth and fifth digits of his left hand and the
fifth digit of his right. See, e.g., R. 102, 390. In
2009 surgery was performed to alleviate the contractures in
Mr. Jarrell's left hand. R. 421-22. The surgery did not
entirely resolve the contractures in his hand and a 2015
medical examination notes a “gradual
reoccurrence” of symptoms. R. 390. Mr. Jarrell has
chosen not to undergo subsequent surgeries due to the fact
that any solution would be only a “temporary fix”
for the contractures. R. 102, 391.
November 1, 2013 Mr. Jarrell applied for disability
benefits and social security insurance, alleging disability
beginning August 1, 2013. R. 241. Both claims were initially
denied on April 21, 2014. R. 150. Mr. Jarrell filed a written
request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on June 20, 2014. R. 154. His hearing
before ALJ Patricia E. Hartman was to be held on October 6,
2015, but in response to Mr. Jarrell's claim that the
medical record was incomplete, the ALJ postponed the hearing
to December 1, 2015. R. 174, 347-48, 208. Before the hearing
Mr. Jarrell requested that the ALJ order a consultative
examination specific to his Dupuytren's contractures. R.
351. Mr. Jarrell pointed to newly-received correspondence
from a doctor recommending such an exam. Id. Because
the ALJ found the record already complete with a consultative
report, she denied Mr. Jarrell's request for an
additional consultative exam. R. 74.
hearing was held before the ALJ on December 1, 2015. R. 92.
The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on February 2,
2016. R. 71-91. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Jarrell's
request for review on January 30, 2017, rendering the
ALJ's determination the final decision of the
Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. R. 1. Mr.
Jarrell then filed a timely appeal in this Court.
The ALJ's Decision.
issued an unfavorable decision after evaluating the available
evidence according to the SSA's standard five-step
process. R. 71-91. First, she found that Mr. Jarrell had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 1, 2013,
the alleged onset date of his disability. R. 77. At step two,
the ALJ found that Mr. Jarrell had the severe impairments of
Dupuytren's contractures and a history of polysubstance
abuse in partial remission. R. 25. At step three, the ALJ
concluded that Mr. Jarrell did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 79.
then found that Mr. Jarrell retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work
at all exertional levels subject to the following
nonexertional restrictions: he can finger unlimitedly but can
only engage in fingering that requires the use of the first
three digits on each hand for actual manipulation with the
last two digits to be used only for support; he cannot climb
ladders and scaffolds; he cannot work in extreme cold; he
cannot work at unprotected heights; and he cannot work with
dangerous unprotected machinery. R. 79- 80.
four, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Jarrell is unable to perform
any past relevant work. R. 85. At step five, the ALJ
determined that there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that Mr. Jarrell can perform.
R. 86. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Jarrell is not
disabled. R. 87.
Jarrell contends that the ALJ erred in her assessment of his
physical condition by: (1) failing to adequately develop the
record regarding his Dupuytren's contractures; and (2)
improperly weighing medical opinion evidence about his
lifting limitations and his limitations in social
functioning. The Court will address each argument in turn.