Green v. Social Security Administration
ORDER reversing and remanding the final decision of the Commissioner. This remand is a "sentence four" remand within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) andMelkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89 (1991). Signed by Magistrate Judge Patricia S. Harris on 1/20/2017. (ljb)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CASE NO. 1:16CV00047 PSH
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff Tina Green (“Green”), in her appeal of the final decision of the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration (defendant “Colvin”) to deny her claim for Disability Insurance
benefits (DIB), contends the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by failing to give the opinion
of Green’s treating physician, Dr. Matthew Jackson (“Jackson”), any weight. Specifically, Green
contends the medical record contains ample evidence of medical findings to support Jackson’s
opinion, the ALJ erred in concluding her pain was relieved with treatment, and her daily activities
were not inconsistent with Jackson’s opinion. Green alleges as a second claim for relief that the
ALJ’s credibility assessment was flawed. The parties have ably summarized the medical records
and the testimony given at the administrative hearing conducted on December 9, 2014. (Tr. 90-110).
The Court has carefully reviewed the record to determine whether there is substantial evidence in
the administrative record to support Colvin’s decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). We find merit in
Green’s arguments. The case must be remanded for further proceedings.
Green, who was 46 years old at the time of the administrative hearing, has a high school
education and past relevant work beginning in 1986, including employment with the same employer
from 1999 until February 2013. She alleges she is disabled due to fibromyalgia, chronic low back
pain, depression, and obesity. Pivotal to this case is Jackson’s treatment, which began in February
2012, and his opinions, which were offered in a medical source statement in December 2014 and
in a June 2015 letter. (Tr. 744-745, 806). Jackson opined Green’s fibromyalgia, muscle spasms,
and lower back pain would limit her to lifting up to ten pounds, and standing and walking two hours
in a work day. Jackson stated his patient would need frequent rest periods, and that she was unable
to complete a normal work day or maintain a work routine on a full time basis. He also stated she
was unable to reach in all directions, could only occasionally handle, and would miss work more
than three days a month. Jackson opined Green could not return to her previous employment, and
noted further details might be provided by her fibromyalgia specialist.1
ALJ’s Treatment of Jackson’s Opinions: In her February 2015 opinion the ALJ wrote:
The opinion of her treating physician Matthew Jackson was reviewed and given no
weight. Jackson opined that due to fibromyalgia, low back pain and muscle spasms,
the claimant is limited to occasionally lifting 10 pounds, standing/walking two hours
in an eight-hour workday and unlimited sitting. According to Dr. Jackson, she would
need rest breaks to shift positions and could not work full-time. He also opined she
would be absent from work more than three days per month. However, his
assessment is not supported by the medical evidence.
The claimant’s treating records note some crepitus, tenderness, and muscle spasms.
However, examination also indicated the claimant has a normal range of motion.
The claimant’s pain responded to injections, physical therapy, chiropractic treatment,
a TENS unit and medications. The record shows that the TENS unit, acupuncture,
heat, injections and medications provide relief. [citations omitted]. Additionally, Dr.
Green was seen by Dr. Randy Roberts (“Roberts”) beginning in March 2012. Roberts was the
“fibromyalgia specialist” referenced by Jackson. The assessments and treatments by Roberts, a
rheumatologist, were remarkably consistent with Jackson’s course of treatment. Roberts opined in
June 2015 that Green’s fibromyalgia rendered her unable to do physical work, and that “she is
disabled on this basis.” (Tr. 805).
Jackson’s medical source statement is not consistent with the claimant’s adaptive
A treating physician’s medical opinions are given controlling weight if they are “wellsupported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques” and are not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence. See Choate v. Barnhart, 457 F.3d 865, 869 (8th Cir.
2006) (internal quotations omitted). Here, the ALJ erred in assessing the opinion of Jackson. From
February 2012 through March 2016, Green was seen by Jackson on more than thirty occasions.
While the ALJ concluded Green responded to treatment and received relief, the medical records do
not support these conclusions except in a superficial way. It is more accurate to say that Green
occasionally responded and received minor relief at times but continued to struggle with pain
throughout the treatment process. Indeed, the medical records are consistent with Jackson’s
opinions that Green sought a wide variety of treatment options (e.g., acupuncture, physical therapy,
chiropractic treatment, and numerous pain medications) without significant improvement. As
previously stated, Jackson’s depiction of Green’s status was mirrored by Roberts, another treating
physician who provided regular care (almost thirty visits by Green in 2012-2015 time period). The
ALJ does not point to other substantial evidence inconsistent with the findings of Jackson and
Roberts. The ALJ assigned “considerable weight” to the opinion of Dr. Kenneth Hobby (“Hobby”).
Hobby performed a one-time consultative mental evaluation in November 2013. (Tr. 549-560).
This mental evaluation does not counter the opinions of Jackson and Roberts, as it does not by its
own terms address the physical limitations described by the treating physicians.
In summary, the properly supported opinions of treating physicians are entitled to a level of
deference not accorded by the ALJ in this instance.
Credibility Analysis: Citing Social Security Rule 96-7p and other relevant authority, the
ALJ addressed Green’s credibility. Part of the reason for discounting Green’s credibility was that
her impairments could be controlled by treatment or medication. (Tr. 82). However, this is at odds
with the statements of her treating physicians. As a result, the ALJ should not have relied upon this
as a factor to find Green less credible. We also note the ALJ did not mention Green’s impressive
work record in her credibility assessment. She should have done so. In Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d
1320 (8th Cir. 1984), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals set forth a number of factors an ALJ is to
consider in assessing credibility. One of these factors is the claimant’s work history. Although there
is no requirement for an ALJ to mention every pertinent factor when analyzing a claimant’s
credibility, common sense suggests an exceptional work record enhances credibility and merits some
mention. See Renstrom v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057 (8th Cir. 2012); Barnes v. Colvin, 2013 WL
12099415, E.D. Ark. (July 15, 2013) (consistent work record may support credibility but does not
automatically entitle a claimant to substantial credibility).
In summary, the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinions offered by treating physicians
Jackson and Roberts, and failed to perform an adequate credibility assessment. We remand for
further proceedings consistent with this Order.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the final decision of the Commissioner is reversed and
remanded. This remand is a "sentence four" remand within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and
Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89 (1991).
IT IS SO ORDERED this 20th day of January, 2017.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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