Simmons v. Social Security Administration
ORDER REMANDING TO THE COMMISSIONER. The ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. On remand, the ALJ is instructed to update the medical record, reevaluate Simmons's credibility, and reconsider his residual functional capacity. Signed by Magistrate Judge J. Thomas Ray on 8/1/2016. (jak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Social Security Administration
ORDER REMANDING TO THE COMMISSIONER
Robert Simmons (“Simmons”) applied for supplemental security income
benefits with an alleged onset date of January 1, 2012. (R. at 47). After a hearing,
the administrative law judge (ALJ) denied his application. (R. at 20). The Appeals
Council denied Simmons’s request for review. (R. at 1). The ALJ’s decision stands
as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Simmons has requested judicial
For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner’s decision must be reversed
The Commissioner’s Decision
The ALJ proceeded through the five-step evaluative process, finding that
Simmons had the severe impairments of status-post compression fractures of the
thoracic spine, obesity, post-traumatic stress disorder, and major depressive
disorder. (R. at 11). The ALJ found that Simmons retained the residual functional
The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge.
capacity (“RFC”) to lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds
frequently; stand and/or walk six hours in an eight-hour workday; sit six hours in
an eight-hour workday; and to push and/or pull twenty pounds occasionally and ten
pounds frequently. (R. at 13). Non-exertionally, the ALJ concluded that Simmons
had the RFC to understand, remember, and carry out simple job instructions; make
coworkers/supervisors with only incidental contact that is not necessary to perform
work; respond appropriately to minor changes in the usual work routine; and have
no dealings with the general public. (R. at 13).
At step 4 of the evaluative process, the ALJ found that Simmons could not
perform any of his past relevant work. (R. at 18).
At step 5, the ALJ found that Simmons could perform the jobs of hand
bander or production worker. (R. at 19). Consequently, the ALJ held that Simmons
was not disabled. (R. at 20).
Simmons argues that the ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole. Specifically, he contends that the ALJ erred in
discrediting his subjective allegations of pain.
This Court must 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 evidence
that a reasonable mind would find sufficient to support the ALJ’s decision. Slusser
v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009).
“[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).
When determining the credibility of a claimant's subjective allegations of pain, the
ALJ must examine: (1) the claimant's daily activities; (2) the duration and intensity
of the pain; (3) the precipitating and aggravating factors; (4) dosage, effectiveness,
and side effects of medication; and (5) functional restrictions. Miller v. Sullivan,
953 F.2d 417, 420 (8th Cir. 1992) (citing Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322
(1984)). 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
will defer to an 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).
“[A]n ALJ may not circumvent the rule that objective evidence is not needed to
support subjective complaints of pain under the guise of a credibility finding.”
Penn v. Sullivan, 896 F.2d 313, 316 (8th Cir. 1990).
The ALJ discussed several factors in the course of discrediting Simmons.
First, the ALJ cited Simmons’s activities of daily living, which included preparing
simple meals, such as microwave meals or sandwiches; folding laundry, though
unable to finish; watching television; and occasionally riding in a car. (R. at 36–37,
189–96). The ALJ stated that these daily activities “are not limited to the extent
that one would expect given the complaints of disabling symptoms and
limitations.” (R. at 16).
The Eighth Circuit has held that activities far more extensive than those
engaged in by Simmons do not support a finding that a claimant can engage in fulltime competitive work. Baumgarten v. Chater, 75 F.3d 366, 369 (8th Cir. 1996). It
is not necessary for Simmons to “prove that [his] pain precludes all productive
activity and confines [him] to a life in front of the television.” Id. Simmons,
however, testified that his impairments do practically keep him confined to sitting
and watching television. (R. at 36). These extremely limited daily activities do not
exemplify the ability to do competitive work.
Second, the ALJ found that Simmons’s symptoms were controlled by
medication. (R. at 15). There is nothing in the record to indicate that Simmons’s
pain is controlled. The record indicates that pain medicine helps and that Simmons
has sought refills of medication when he runs out, but this does not establish that
the medication controlled the symptoms. (R. at 319, 331).
Third, the ALJ noted the “discrepancy” between Simmons’s statement that he
could prepare simple meals and his wife’s report that he could only prepare a
snack. (R. at 16). This semantic distinction cannot reasonably be considered a
contradiction, as both indicate that Simmons can only fix meals that require little
effort before they can be eaten. The ALJ also considered Simmons’s wife’s report
that he is afraid of being alone and isolates himself to be inconsistent with
Simmons’s reports of being able to be alone. (R. at 16). The ALJ seems to have
compared Simmons’s answers to the “social activities” portion of his Function
Report to the “getting around” portion of his wife’s Third Party Function Report.
(R. at 181, 193). However, when the correctly corresponding sections are
compared, there is no contradiction. (R. at 181, 183, 192, 193). The reports
indicate that Simmons needs accompaniment from his wife when he goes out of
the house and that he does not socialize.
A consultative physical examination stated that Simmons could be limited in
his ability to lift, carry, and walk, but the examiner did not directly observe these
limitations. (R. at 249). Simmons has multiple compression fractures that have
resulted in kyphosis. (R. at 226). He has also received prescriptions Hydrocodone,
Oxycodone, Naproxen, Orphenadrine, and Prednisone due to back pain. (R. at
321–22). The overall medical record provides more support for Simmons’s
allegations of pain than the ALJ suggests.
There is some evidence supporting the ALJ’s credibility determination. There
is evidence that Simmons was referred to physical therapy, but the record does not
show that he ever began treatment. (R. at 331). However, the evidence supporting
the ALJ’s credibility determination is negligible when considered alongside the
otherwise largely consistent allegations. Simmons’s physicians have seen fit to
prescribe narcotic medication to alleviate his pain, and his daily activities are
extremely limited. The evidence does not support the ALJ’s credibility
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 update the
medical record, reevaluate Simmons’s credibility, and reconsider his residual
It is so ordered this 1st day of August, 2016.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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