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CHAPMAN v. BARNHART

March 7, 2002

DELORIS CHAPMAN, PLAINTIFF,
V.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ian H. Levin, United States District Judge

    MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Debris Chapman ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review a final decision of the Commissioner (the "Commissioner") of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB")and Social Security Insurance ("SSI") under the Social Security Act (the "Act"). Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgement and Motion for Remand, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court remands the case for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On February 4, 1997, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI alleging that she became disabled on May 23, 1996 due to an injury she sustained to her right hand while she was working. (R. 100-02, 119,252-54.)*fn1 Plaintiff's applications for benefits were denied, and subsequently, upon review, Plaintiff's request for reconsideration was also denied. (R.90-93, 96-98, 262-264.)

Because her DIB and SSI applications had been denied, Plaintiff requested a de novo hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. 99.) On June 17, 1998, Plaintiff appeared before an ALJ at an administrative hearing. (R. 32.) The ALJ continued the hearing to November 10, 1998 so that Plaintiff could obtain counsel and complete a consultative examination of her right hand. (R. 34-63, 49-50.) No sworn testimony was taken at the June 17, 1998 hearing. (R. 34-63.) On November 10, 1998, Plaintiff, again, appeared without counsel at the administrative hearing (R. 66) and the ALJ proceeded to conduct the hearing.

On December 4, 1998, the ALJ issued his decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled because her impairment(s) had only a slight or minimal effect on her ability to perform work-related activities. (R. 24.) Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision, and on June 8, 2001, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 5-6, 16.) Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff initiated this civil action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.

BACKGROUND FACTS

I. PLAINTIFF'S TESTIMONY/EVIDENCE

Ms. Pecolia Helm, a non-attorney friend of Plaintiff's appeared with Plaintiff at the November 10, 1998 administrative hearing.*fn3 (R. 66.) Ms. Helm stated that Plaintiff was a "slower learner," that Plaintiff could not read or write, and that she had helped Plaintiff fill out paperwork. (R. 74.) Ms. Helm also stated that she assisted Plaintiff by "showing her around" and helped her find different places and phone numbers. (R. 74.)

Plaintiff testified that she has worked in the past. (R. 77.) At Plaintiff's last job, which she worked at for two and half years, she was responsible for "gluing stuff," packaging items and shipping boxes. (R. 76-79.) Plaintiff stated that she was subsequently fired after she injured her right hand on the job. (R. 79, 83.) In addition, prior to this job, Plaintiff worked as a cafeteria worker. (R. 78.) After being fired, Plaintiff testified that she looked for other work and attempted other jobs, but that she stopped and could not work because of problems with her hand. (R. 72, 76, 79, 83.)

II. MEDICAL EVIDENCE

Plaintiff was treated in the emergency room on January 18, 1996 after burning her right hand with hot glue while cleaning a glue gun at work. (R. 154.) Her diagnosis was a second degree burn to the distal end of her right middle finger. (R. 154.) Plaintiff was prescribed Tylenol #3 and instructed to obtain follow-up care with her doctor. (R. 155)

In late 1996, Plaintiff sought further medical treatment for problems with her right hand and wrist. (R. 167, 210.) For instance, in October, 1996, Plaintiff was seen in the emergency room for problems associated with her right wrist. (R. 210.) In December, 1996, Plaintiff reported pain in the area of her original burn injury. (R. 210.) Pain medication was prescribed and thereafter, Plaintiff received treatment for her right wrist and hand. (R. 167, 210.)

In January, 1997, Plaintiff complained of pain and numbness in her right hand. (R. 160) Electromyogram (EMG) testing of Plaintiff's upper extremity revealed no abnormalities. (R. 160.) In addition, X-rays of Plaintiff's right wrist were also normal. (R. 208.) Plaintiff, however, continued to complain of pain in her right wrist and hand. (R. 165, 167, 209.) Plaintiff was prescribed pain medication and instructed to undergo occupational therapy. (R. 196, 198, 200.)

On March 7, 1997, Dr. Allen*fn4 reported that Plaintiff had sustained a first degree burn to the index and middle fingers on her right hand. (R. 165) Plaintiff also complained of pain in her right wrist. (R. 165.)

On March 11, 1997, an occupational therapist conducted an outpatient occupational therapy evaluation of Plaintiff. (R. 167.) Plaintiff's active range of motion test, manual muscle test and grip strength test were within normal functional limits. (R. 168.) Plaintiff, however, stated that she experienced pain during the evaluation and she had a slight decrease in her right grip and pinch strength. (R. 168.) Plaintiff also reported, during the evaluation, that she had pain while working on a keyboard of a computer, washing dishes, and performing other activities. (R. 167.) The therapist recommended that Plaintiff receive therapy three times a week. (R. 168.)

On April 4, 1997, Dr. Vic T. Tsai conducted an initial examination Plaintiff. (R. 183.) Dr. Tsai reported that Plaintiff had not significantly improved after her initial injury (which had been followed by therapy). (R. 183.) Dr. Tsai noted that Plaintiff complained of residual pain in her right wrist and pain in her right fingers when squeezing or making a tight grip. (R. 183.) Plaintiff also had some soreness of her forearm near the wrist area, especially when pressure was applied. (R. 183.) Plaintiff's range of motion was fair, sensation was satisfactory, and no clinical signs of nerve problems or obstructed blood flow. (R. 183.) Dr. Tsai diagnosed Plaintiff as having residual tendinitis of the flexor carpi ulnaris tendon in the wrist ...


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