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Thomas Lee Hope v. Michael J. Astrue

May 30, 2011

THOMAS LEE HOPE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Patrick J. Walsh United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff appeals a decision by Defendant Social Security Administration ("the Agency"), denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. He claims that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred when he: (1) determined that Plaintiff could perform medium work; and (2) found that Plaintiff was not credible. (Joint Stip. at 3-7, 14-16.) Because the Agency's decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act is supported by substantial evidence, it is affirmed.

II. SUMMARY OF FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff applied for SSI on June 18, 2007, alleging that he had been unable to work since February 2, 2006, because of a breathing impairment. (Administrative Record ("AR") 76, 102.) The Agency denied his application initially and on reconsideration. (AR 35-48.) Plaintiff then requested and was granted a hearing before an ALJ. (AR 49, 53-54.) In May 2009, he appeared with counsel and testified at the hearing. (AR 17-34.) On September 15, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 7-16.) Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council, which denied review. (AR 1-5.) He then commenced the instant action.

III. ANALYSIS

A. The ALJ's Residual Functional Capacity Determination

1. Plaintiff's Grip Strength

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's determination that he could perform medium-level work---which requires that he occasionally lift and carry 50 pounds--was inconsistent with the examining doctor's finding that Plaintiff's grip strength was 40 pounds in his right hand and 30 pounds in his left hand. (Joint Stip. at 4-5.) Plaintiff argues, it seems, that, to be able to lift 50 pounds, a person has to have grip strength equal to or greater than 50 pounds. (Joint Stip. at 4.) For the following reasons, the Court finds that Plaintiff is simply mistaken.

Grip strength is not synonymous with lifting ability. See Bauslaugh v. Astrue, 2010 WL 1875800, at *5 (C.D. Cal. May 11, 2010) ("[U]nder the Regulations, the ability to grip and grasp is not related to the ability to lift and carry."). Grip strength measures the force grip of a hand and "represents the power of squeezing between the thumb and fingers." Chambers v. Shalala, 1995 WL 228965, at *2 n.7 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 14, 1995). Lifting involves picking up a load with the legs, arms, and torso. Plaintiff's attempt to equate the two is rejected, as is his argument that the ALJ erred when he concluded that Plaintiff could lift 50 pounds despite the fact that his grip strength was less than 50 pounds.

2. Dr. To's Failure to Take X-Rays

Plaintiff argues that examining doctor Bryan To's opinion was defective because he failed to order x-rays of Plaintiff's joints, despite Plaintiff's complaints of joint pain. (Joint Stip. at 5.) The Court finds this claim to be without merit.

Dr. To first examined Plaintiff in August 2007. (AR 175-79.) He found, among other things, that Plaintiff's gait was normal and that he had a full range of motion in his extremities. (AR 176, 177.) Dr. To concluded that Plaintiff could lift 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; stand and walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday; and frequently climb ladders, bend, kneel, stoop, crawl, and crouch. (AR 178.) He recommended that Plaintiff be restricted from exposure to extreme temperatures, moisture, fumes, and dust. (AR 179.)

In October 2007, Dr. To examined Plaintiff again. (AR 181-89.) He noted Plaintiff's complaints of joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, but found that his gait was normal, as were muscle tone and mass, and that there was no evidence of deformity, swelling, or tenderness in any joint. (AR 181, 182, 184.) Although he noted that Plaintiff complained of "some vague range of motion pain," Dr. To found that the range of motion was normal. (AR 183, 184.) He also found that Plaintiff's motor function and motor strength were normal. (AR 184.) ...


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