Smith v. Social Security Administration
ORDER affirming the final decision of the Commissioner and dismissing with prejudice Plaintiff's complaint. Signed by Magistrate Judge Patricia S. Harris on 8/13/2015. (jak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CASE NO. 3:14CV00271 PSH
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, in her appeal of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration to deny her claim for Disability Insurance benefits (DIB), contends the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in assessing her credibility, which led to the erroneous
conclusion that she has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform work at the medium
exertional level. The parties have ably summarized the medical records and the testimony given at
the administrative hearing conducted on November 5, 2013. (Tr. 52-63). The Court has carefully
reviewed the record to determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record
to support the Commissioner’s decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Credibility: Since the primary issue is the credibility determination, the plaintiff’s
testimony at the administrative hearing is vital. The plaintiff, 57 years old and married for 32 years
at the time of the hearing, stated she lived with her husband and adult daughter, and her past relevant
work had been as a cook. When asked why she could no longer work, she indicated pain in her legs
and the tendency to “get tired real fast.” (Tr. 57). She stated she could stand for about 15 minutes
before needing to rest. She described her daily activities to include a small amount of sweeping,
washing, and cooking. Although she never has possessed a driver’s license, she indicated she
accompanied her husband when he went shopping “all the time”, and these outings last “about an
hour or something.” (Tr. 60). She noted she had heart surgery in October of 2012, but could not
return to work following the surgery because “I still don’t feel too good.” (Tr. 61). She listed daily
medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, and aspirin taken daily for her heart. She also stated
she had cataract surgery in the past, which helped a vision “a little bit.” (Tr. 62). Finally, she stated
that her leg pain had worsened.
In his March 6, 2014 Decision, the ALJ found the plaintiff had severe impairments of
coronary artery disease, history of myocardial infarction and bypass surgery, and diabetes. The ALJ
found the plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform the full range of medium
work. Her past relevant work as a cook fell within the medium range of work. As a result, the ALJ
concluded plaintiff could perform her past work and she was not disabled. The RFC finding was
based, in part, upon the ALJ’s discounting of the plaintiff’s credibility.
The ALJ indicated his decision was consistent with SSR 96-7p, a policy interpretation which
embodies the factors set forth in Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th Cir. 1984), which provides
the following guidance on issues of credibility:
The absence of an objective medical basis which supports the degree of severity of
subjective complaints alleged is just one factor to be considered in evaluating the
credibility of the testimony and complaints. The adjudicator must give full
consideration to all of the evidence presented relating to subjective complaints,
including the claimant's prior work record, and observations by third parties and
treating and examining physicians relating to such matters as:
1. the claimant's daily activities;
2. the duration, frequency and intensity of the pain;
3. precipitating and aggravating factors;
4. dosage, effectiveness and side effects of medication;
5. functional restrictions.
The adjudicator is not free to accept or reject the claimant's subjective complaints
solely on the basis of personal observations. Subjective complaints may be
discounted if there are inconsistencies in the evidence as a whole.
739 F.2d at 1322 (emphasis in original).
The ALJ’s credibility analysis includes a through discussion of the medical evidence and a
brief discussion of the plaintiff’s daily activities. There is no explicit mention of four of the Polaski
factors (factors 2-5 listed above). However, an ALJ’s credibility determination is not a formulaic
exercise in which each Polaski factor is required to be examined. Rather, it should be a discussion
of those particular factors which are relevant in the case. Brown v. Chater, 87 F.3d 963 (8th Cir.
1996). In this instance, the ALJ’s strong emphasis on the medical evidence and daily activities is
warranted. According to the plaintiff, her leg pain posed the biggest barrier in returning to work.
The medical records show only two mentions of leg pain complaint, once in August of 2012 and
again in September of 2013. The absence of any diagnosis or treatment consistent with her
subjective statements of leg pain is noteworthy. While typically an ALJ can and should provide
more detail in a credibility evaluation, the medical records in this case are sparse, especially records
relating to leg pain. As for daily activities, the plaintiff’s testimony was internally at odds, in that
she stated that she could stand for only 10-15 minutes but also stated she regularly shops with her
husband for an hour. Further, although the plaintiff testified to taking medications for high blood
pressure and diabetes, as well as aspirin for her heart, she did not testify to any side effects from the
medications. Similarly, the ALJ’s review of the medical records reflects no restrictions imposed by
the plaintiff’s treating physicians. Thus, the record was silent on the issues of medication side
effects and functional restrictions. In summary, the ALJ’s credibility analysis is supported by
substantial evidence even though not all Polaski factors were individually addressed1.
Having found ample support for the ALJ’s credibility determination, it follows that the RFC
determination is equally supported by substantial evidence.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the final decision of the Commissioner is affirmed and
plaintiff’s complaint is dismissed with prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 13th day of August, 2015.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
The ALJ should have addressed the plaintiff’s work history, a factor which weighed in her favor.
(Tr. 136). However, we find this error harmless, as the objective medical evidence and daily
activities constitute substantial evidence to support the credibility conclusion. We are mindful that
the Court’s task is not to review the record and arrive at an independent decision, nor is it to reverse
if we find some evidence to support a different conclusion. The test is whether substantial evidence
supports the ALJ’s decision. See, e.g., Byes v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 913, 915 (8th Cir. 2012).
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