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RENNA v. BARNHART

May 2, 2003

JOHN RENNA, PLAINTIFF, AGAINST JO ANNE B. BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frederick Block, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff John Renna ("Renna") challenges two decisions issued by the defendant Commission of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying him disability benefits. The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings with respect to the first decision, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), and moves for dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction with respect to the second decision. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Renna cross-moves, pursuant to Rule 12(c), seeking reversal or, alternatively, remand for further development of the record.

BACKGROUND

On November 3, 1992, Renna, an auto mechanic for over twenty-five years, was injured when an engine manifold fell on his right wrist. Tr. at 49. He received treatment for this injury, including arthroscopic surgery in October 1994. Tr.*fn1 at 229. The surgery led to some improvement in Renna's condition, although one physician noted in 1997 that "[h]e continues to have pain with use and has difficulty making a good hand grip. He also has difficulty in picking up heavy objects, and sometimes in doing fine movements with his hand." Tr. at 253. His treating physician opined in 1997 that "[t]he patient has moderate improvement. He continues with weakness, reduced endurance although pain is markedly improved compared to preoperatively." Tr. at 267.

Renna's treating and consulting physicians concluded that he was disabled from performing his prior line of work. Tr. at 267, 332, 336. However, he was told at various times that he should attempt to engage in light work, so long as he did not lift more than five to ten pounds. Tr. at 50, 240, 241, 336. His ability to sit, stand, and walk were unaffected by his wrist injury. Tr. at 257-258.

Renna, who is right handed, Tr. at 252, complained of some numbness in his left wrist beginning in 1997. Tr. at 93-94. In an August 14, 1998 report, his treating physician opined that "carpal tunnel syndrome is evident on today's history and examination on the right [hand], questionable on the left."*fn2 Tr. at 268. However, two consulting physician's medical reports from March 19, 1997 and September 1, 1998 showed that Renna's left-hand grip remained normal. Tr. at 252, 333.

A. Hearings Before the First ALJ

On April 17, 1996, Renna applied for disability insurance benefits claiming a disability as of November 3, 1992. Tr. at 168-171. After his application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration, he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Tr. at 145-150, 153-155. The request was granted, and Renna appeared with counsel at the June 11, 1997 hearing, where he testified and presented medical evidence as to his right wrist injury. On August 14, 1997, the ALJ determined that Renna was "unable to perform his past relevant work as a mechanic" in light of his right wrist injury, but "[b]ased on an exertional capacity for sedentary work," the Social Security regulations "direct[ed] a conclusion of `not disabled.'" Tr. at 79.

Renna appealed, and on September 28, 1998, the Appeals Council concluded that the ALJ did not adequately examine Renna's non-exertional limitations. Tr. at 161. The case was remanded with directions that the ALJ "[r]eevaluate the claimant's maximum residual functional capacity [("RFC")] and the weight to be accorded any medical source opinions, especially those concerning the functional use of the right upper extremity," and "[i]f necessary, obtain evidence from a vocational expert [("VE")]." Tr. at 162.

The rehearing was held on December 16, 1998. Tr. at 91-117. At the hearing, Renna, again represented by counsel, presented medical evidence as to the extent of his right wrist injury. He also testified that he suffered pain and numbness in his right wrist, Tr. at 103-04, and, for the first time, testified to some numbness in his left wrist:

[ALJ] Has your condition changed at all [since the first hearing], or is it about the same?
[Renna]: Oh, my hands start to go numb now. . . .

[ALJ]: Your — both hands?

[Renna]: Yes, ...


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