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Corcoran v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

March 19, 2018

NANCY BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Tommy Corcoran appeals the Social Security Administration's decision to deny his application for Social Security disability benefits. An administrative law judge found that Corcoran was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Corcoran raises only one challenge to the ALJ's decision - that in her opinion, the ALJ did not cite to Corcoran's testimony at the hearing. However, I conclude that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence. I will, therefore, affirm the decision of the ALJ.


         At the time of the hearing, Tommy Corcoran was 50 years old. He testified that he was married and had one minor child, a daughter who was 17. [A.R. 40.] Corcoran possessed a valid driver's license and was able to drive. [Id.] He completed two years of college, earning an Associate's degree in Science, Aviation Maintenance. [Id.] He has an “A&P” (Airframe and Powerplant) license through Vincennes University. [Id. at 40-41.] With respect to his work history dating back to 1999, Corcoran testified that he worked for Bilby Trucking, driving a dump truck. [Id. at 42.] Next he worked for Keebler, where he drove a semi-truck on local routes in Indianapolis and surrounding cities. [Id. at 42-43.] When Keebler was acquired by Kellogg, Corcoran continued to work as a semi-truck driver, doing substantially the same work. [Id. at 43.] Corcoran left Kellogg in 2011, when it closed, and he has not worked since. [Id.]

         Corcoran reported that it is mainly his hands that keep him from working. [Id.] He testified that he has been in pain management for many years. The last time he engaged in pain management was in 2012, when he was diagnosed with carpal tunnel. [Id. at 43-44.] He described his symptoms as numbness, tingling, and pain in both hands. He underwent surgery on both of his hands, but he reported that it helped “[v]ery little” and that he still has the same problems. [Id. at 44.] He continued to experience numbness and tingling, and he stated that his hands swell up if he uses them too much. He also stated that his hands become numb when driving. [Id.] He rated his pain without medication as a five or six out of ten, and with medication, a two or three out of ten. [Id. at 46-47.]

         In addition to pain in his hands caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, Corcoran also testified that his lower back and low blood sugars also interfered with his ability to work. [Id. at 44.] He reported that he was a diabetic, and despite having an insulin pump, he was still having problems with his blood sugar. [Id. at 44-45.]

         Corcoran further described pain and stiffness in his both his lower and mid-back. [Id. at 47, 58.] He rated his pain as a seven to eight out of ten without medication, and a five to six with it. [Id. at 47.] Corcoran was referred by a surgeon to follow up with a neurologist, but at the time of the hearing, he had not yet found or made an appointment because his knee had been “locked up, ” which delayed him. [Id. at 49.] In addition to back pain, Corcoran testified that he has neck pain and nerve spasms on the sides of his shoulders. [Id. at 52.]

         With respect to daily activities, Corcoran reported that he could take his dog for a short walk around the yard, but that was all he could handle. [Id. at 50.] He testified that he could lift 20 pounds, and he could reach up into the cupboard and take down a plate or cup, but he could hardly get dressed. [Id. at 50-51.] He is able to help bring groceries into the house, but he does not do any laundry or cleaning. [Id. at 53.] He rides a tractor on his property to mow the lawn in increments of about 20 minutes at a time, but this can hurt his back. [Id. at 53-54.] In his spare time, he works on motorcycles in his garage. [Id. at 55.]

         The ALJ engaged in the five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether Corcoran was disabled. At Steps One and Two, the ALJ found that Corcoran met the insured status requirements and that he had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 1, 2012, the alleged onset date. [Id. at 20.] At Step Three, the ALJ found that Corcoran had two severe impairments: diabetes and degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine. [Id.] The ALJ also evaluated whether Corcoran's carpal tunnel syndrome and mental difficulties constituted severe impairments. She found that Corcoran's carpal tunnel does not constitute a severe impairment because his symptoms had been alleviated with treatment. [Id. at 21.] With respect to his mental difficulties, the ALJ considered the four broad functional areas set out in the disability regulations for evaluating mental disorders. Based on this analysis, she found that his mental difficulties were nonsevere. [Id. at 22.] At Step Four, the ALJ found that Corcoran's impairments were not listed impairments. [Id. at 23.]

         At Step Five, the ALJ found that Corcoran has the residual functional capacity to perform a range of light work as defined in the regulations. [Id. at 24.] In making this determination, the ALJ stated that she considered all of the alleged symptoms. [Id.] She expressly noted that “the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely credible for the reasons explained in this decision.” [Id.]

         In particular, the ALJ found that there were inconsistencies in regards to Corcoran's allegations of severe symptoms and the record as a whole. Corcoran reported significant problems with routine tasks, but other evidence contradicted this. First, in October 2012, Corcoran reported that he had been helping his son refurbish a vehicle. Second, as of February 2013, Corcoran was still concerned with obtaining his commercial drivers' license, indicating that he was still looking for work. Third, in August 2013, during a physical therapy appointment for his wrist, he indicated that he only had “some[what] difficulty” with dressing, bathing, feeding, and other fine motor skills. Later, in October 2013, after his second carpal tunnel surgery, Corcoran reported that he was using his hand for most of his work activity. In December 2013, he stated that he was vigorously using both hands. The ALJ found it notable that his hands were completely stained with grease and dirt. [Id. at 27.]

         The ALJ also considered his medications. She found that Corcoran was less than compliant in his treatment recommendations, and she noted that he was discharged from his pain management clinic due to abnormal pill count and a positive urine drug screen. She reasoned that his noncompliance with treatment recommendations suggested that his symptoms were not as severe as alleged. [Id. at 28.]

         With respect to Corcoran's pain treatment, the ALJ observed that he had undergone surgery on both his hands and his cervical spine. Corcoran admitted that the bilateral carpal tunnel releases were effective. And with regard to his cervical fusion, although he continued to complain of some pain, the imaging and clinical signs suggested that the surgery was successful. Overall, based on a totality of the evidence, the ALJ found that the treatment was effective in alleviating the worst of his symptoms. [Id.]

         In assessing Corcoran's alleged limitations, the ALJ noted that he complained of significant limitations, but the record failed to support this. First, even though he had trouble controlling his blood sugar levels, he never developed complications from diabetes, including retaining normal vision and never experiencing neuropathy in his extremities. Second, with respect to his neck pain, although the record confirmed this ongoing pain, he ultimately underwent a fusion surgery. His medical records after the surgery showed that he was neurologically intact. During routine ...

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