Gibson v. Social Security Administration
ORDER REMANDING TO THE COMMISSIONER: The Court finds that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. On remand, the ALJ is instructed to reevaluate Gibson's credibility, to reevaluate Gibson's RFC to include limitatio ns related to her carpal tunnel syndrome, to reevaluate the record while giving proper weight to non-treating physician opinions, and to more fully set out the evidence of Gibson's limitations. Signed by Magistrate Judge J. Thomas Ray on 7/1/2016. (ljb)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Social Security Administration
ORDER REMANDING TO THE COMMISSIONER
Patricia Gibson applied for social security disability benefits with an alleged
onset date of October 25, 2011. (R. at 180). After a hearing, the administrative law
judge (ALJ) denied Gibson’s applications, and the Appeals Council declined
review. (R. at 1). The ALJ’s decision stands as the final decision of the
Commissioner, and Gibson has requested judicial review. The parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge.
For the reasons stated below, this Court reverses and remands the
The Commissioner’s Decision
The ALJ found that Gibson had the severe impairments of status post total
right knee replacement, obstructive sleep apnea, lumbar spine radiculopathy, and
degenerative disk disease of the cervical spine. (R. at 62). The ALJ then found that
Gibson had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work, except
that she could not climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, nor be exposed to unprotected
heights, and could reach overhead frequently and perform all remaining postural
functions frequently. (R. at 63). The ALJ took testimony from a vocational expert
(VE) and found that Gibson could return to her past relevant work as a cashier. (R.
at 67). As such, the ALJ found that Gibson was not disabled. (R. at 67).
Gibson argues that the ALJ erred in failing to identify her carpal tunnel
syndrome as a severe impairment and that the record does not support the RFC
assigned by the ALJ.
This Court will uphold the Commissioner’s decision if it is not based on
legal error and is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Long
v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997). “Substantial evidence” is more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th
Cir. 2009). It is evidence that a reasonable mind would find sufficient to support
the ALJ’s decision. Id. “Substantial evidence on the record as a whole” also
requires the Court to consider evidence in the record that fairly detracts from the
weight of evidence supporting the Commissioner’s decision. Wilcutts v. Apfel, 143
F.3d 1134, 1136 (8th Cir. 1998).
a. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as a Severe Impairment
Gibson first argues that the ALJ failed to find her carpal tunnel syndrome to
be a severe impairment. It is unnecessary to answer this question, as the ALJ found
severe impairments and proceeded to further steps in the evaluative process. When
determining a claimant’s RFC, the ALJ must consider all impairments, even those
that are not severe. Maziarz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 837 F.2d 240, 244
(6th Cir. 1987); 20 C.F.R §§ 404.1545(e), 416.945(e). Any error committed by the
ALJ in failing to identify carpal tunnel syndrome as a severe impairment is
b. The Residual Functional Capacity Determination
Gibson also asserts that the ALJ erred in determining her residual functional
capacity. She argues that the ALJ erred in finding her testimony not credible. She
further contends that the evidence does not show that she has the ability to stand
for the time required for light work, that the ALJ should have included limitations
based on carpal tunnel syndrome, and that the ALJ improperly based the RFC on
non-treating physician opinions.
“[T]he ALJ may disbelieve subjective complaints if there are inconsistencies
in the evidence as a whole.” Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 792 (8th Cir. 2005).
The ALJ may not discount subjective complaints simply because they lack support
in the medical record. Id. “When rejecting a claimant's complaints of pain, the ALJ
must make an express credibility determination, must detail reasons for
discrediting the testimony, must set forth the inconsistencies, and must discuss the
Polaski factors.” Baker v. Apfel, 159 F.3d 1140, 1144 (8th Cir. 1998). The Court
defers to the ALJ’s credibility determination if it is supported by good reasons and
substantial evidence. Turpin v. Colvin, 750 F.3d 989, 993 (8th Cir. 2014).
The ALJ stated that Gibson’s reported limitations and restrictions were
“inconsistent with the medical findings.” (R. at 65). The ALJ failed to identify
these inconsistencies, and the record does not show such inconsistencies.
Gibson testified to holding a custodian position but also testified that she
took from six to eight hours to perform the four hour job. (R. at 79–80). She
testified that she took numerous breaks in order to get through a shift, (R. at 87).
Further, her husband helped her work for two to six hours per week. (R. at 88).
As for other daily activities, Gibson testified that her husband has to help her
operate a can opener. (R. at 82). The ALJ noted that Gibson reported preparing
simple meal, but she also reported that her husband helps her do so daily. (R. at
274). She also reported that her husband helps her with laundry, dishes, and
cleaning. (R. at 274). She testified that numbness in her fingers has caused her to
cut herself without realizing it. (R. at 90). She reported that filling out her function
report took her three days because of the pain in her hands and that she cannot use
her hands for very long. (R. at 276). Her husband corroborated these reports and
reported helping with meals and chores. (R. at 237–38).
The ALJ felt that Gibson’s daily activities indicated that she could work. (R.
at 64). However, the Eighth Circuit has held that light housework and other such
activities alone do not support a finding that a claimant can perform full time
competitive work. Baumgarten v. Chater, 75 F.3d 366, 369 (8th Cir. 1996). “The
test is whether the claimant has ‘the ability to perform the requisite physical acts
day in and day out, in the sometimes competitive and stressful conditions in which
real people work in the real world.’” Draper v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 1127, 1131 (8th
Cir. 2005) (quoting McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1147 (8th Cir. 1982)(en
banc)). Gibson’s activities are limited, and she receives much help from her
husband. Furthermore, a treating physician noted that Gibson pushes herself
further than she should, (R. at 337, 339), and she testified that she works to the
point of pain against her doctor’s advice in order to support her family. (R. at 86).
The record as a whole indicates that Gibson has a supportive spouse more than that
she can perform light work.
The ALJ’s credibility determination is not supported by good reason and
substantial evidence. Additionally, Gibson’s reported activities and the medical
record do not show that she can stand for the time required to perform light work.
The ALJ also failed to account for limitations resulting from carpal tunnel
syndrome. Gibson had numbness and problems gripping items in her hand even
after surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. (R. at 454, 815, 821). Her problems with
grip strength and the use of her hands should have been accounted for in the RFC.
Finally, the ALJ erred in giving significant weight to a consulting physician
opinion. “The opinions of doctors who have not examined the claimant ordinarily
do not constitute substantial evidence on the record as a whole.” Nevland v. Apfel,
204 F.3d 853, 858 (8th Cir. 2000). Further, the consulting physician did not
examine records from after January 2012. (R. at 453). The consultant had an
incomplete record and never examined Gibson.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that the ALJ’s decision is not
supported by substantial evidence. On remand, the ALJ is instructed to reevaluate
Gibson’s credibility, to reevaluate Gibson’s RFC to include limitations related to
her carpal tunnel syndrome, to reevaluate the record while giving proper weight to
non-treating physician opinions, and to more fully set out the evidence of Gibson’s
It is so ordered this 1st day of July, 2016.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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