Matthews v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on June 15, 2011. (cap)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
VICTOR B. MATTHEWS
Civil No. 4:10-cv-04046
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Victor B. Matthews (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the
Social Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010), seeking judicial review of a final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his application
for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and a period of disability under Title II of the Act. The
parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings
in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting
all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 4.1 Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this
memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on January 18, 2008. (Tr. 12, 112-121,
147). Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due to several different impairments, including back pain;
shoulder pain; right hip pain; and difficulty lifting, bending, and twisting. (Tr. 151). Plaintiff
alleged an onset date of July 24, 2007. (Tr. 12, 114). This application was denied initially and again
upon reconsideration. (Tr. 64-65). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his
The docket numbers for this case are referenced by the designation “ECF No. ____” The transcript pages
for this case are referenced by the designation “Tr.”
application, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 23-63, 85-86).
Plaintiff’s administrative hearing was held on April 7, 2009 in Texarkana, Arkansas. (Tr.
23-63). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, James Wiley, at this hearing. Id.
Plaintiff, Vocational Expert (“VE”) Howard Marnan, and Medical Expert (“ME”) Dr. George
Weilepp testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was fifty (50) years old,
which is defined as a “person of advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(e), and had completed
high school. (Tr. 28-29).
On June 1, 2009, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s application for
DIB. (Tr. 12-22). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
of the Act through December 31, 2011. (Tr. 14. Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had not
engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since July 24, 2007, his alleged onset date. (Tr.
14-16, Finding 3). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: cervical and
lumbar degenerative disc disease and hypertension. Id. The ALJ also determined Plaintiff’s
impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listing of Impairments
in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 16, Finding 4).
In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined his RFC.
(Tr. 16-20, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and found his
claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained
the RFC to perform the following:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the
claimant has the residual functional capacity to lift or carry occasionally 20 pounds
and 10 pounds frequently; sit for 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday; stand or walk 6
hours of an 8-hour work day; the upper extremities would be limited to occasional
pushing and pulling; the claimant can frequently climb ramps or stairs, balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl, but should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.
The claimant is precluded from heavy industrial driving but light industrial driving
is not precluded.
The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 20-21, Finding 6). The
ALJ determined Plaintiff’s PRW included work as a tire builder (medium, semiskilled). (Tr. 20-21,
Finding 6). Based upon his RFC, the ALJ determined Plaintiff would be unable to perform this
PRW. Id. The ALJ found, however, that considering his RFC, age, education, and work experience,
Plaintiff would be able to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national
economy. (Tr. 21-22, Finding 10). The ALJ based this finding upon the testimony of the VE. (Tr.
21-22, Finding 10).
Specifically, the VE testified that, given all Plaintiff’s vocational factors, a hypothetical
person would be able to perform the requirements of cashier with 20,000 such jobs in the
Texas/Arkansas region and border areas and 200,000 such jobs in the nation; ticket seller with 7,000
such jobs in the Texas/Arkansas region and border areas and 70,000 such jobs in the nation; and
electronics worker with 2,000 such jobs in the Texas/Arkansas region and border areas and 20,000
such jobs in the nation. (Tr. 22). The ALJ then found Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as
defined by the Act, at any time from July 24, 2007, his alleged onset date, through the date of her
decision or through June 1, 2009. (Tr. 22, Finding 11).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s unfavorable decision.
(Tr. 6-7). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable
decision. (Tr. 1-3). On May 7, 2010, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties
consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on April 8, 2010. ECF No. 4. Both Parties have filed
appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 7-8. This case is now ready for decision.
2. Applicable Law:
In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner’s
findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
(2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than
a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to
support the Commissioner’s decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001).
As long as there is substantial evidence in the record that supports the Commissioner’s decision, the
Court may not reverse it simply because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have
supported a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. See
Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). If, after reviewing the record, it is possible
to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the
findings of the ALJ, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. See Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065,
1068 (8th Cir. 2000).
It is well established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of
proving his or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that lasted at least one
year and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. See Cox v. Apfel,
160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines
a “physical or mental impairment” as “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological,
or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that
his or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive
months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses
the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently
engaged in a “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that
significantly limits the claimant’s physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3)
whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment
listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work
experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his
or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to
the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can
perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f). The fact finder only considers
the plaintiff’s age, education, and work experience in light of his or her RFC if the final stage of this
analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).
In his appeal brief, Plaintiff claims the ALJ’s disability determination is not supported by
substantial evidence in the record. ECF No. 7 at 1-9. Specifically, Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred
(1) by finding he did not suffer from an impairment that met one of the Listings; (2) in evaluating
his RFC; and (3) in evaluating his subjective complaints. Because this Court finds the ALJ
improperly evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, this Court will only address the third issue
In assessing the credibility of a claimant, the ALJ is required to examine and to apply the five
factors from Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th Cir. 1984) or from 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529 and
20 C.F.R. § 416.929.2 See Shultz v. Astrue, 479 F.3d 979, 983 (2007). The factors to consider are
as follows: (1) the claimant’s daily activities; (2) the duration, frequency, and intensity of the pain;
(3) the precipitating and aggravating factors; (4) the dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of
medication; and (5) the functional restrictions. See Polaski, 739 at 1322.
The factors must be analyzed and considered in light of the claimant’s subjective complaints
of pain. See id. The ALJ is not required to methodically discuss each factor as long as the ALJ
acknowledges and examines these factors prior to discounting the claimant’s subjective complaints.
See Lowe v. Apfel, 226 F.3d 969, 971-72 (8th Cir. 2000). As long as the ALJ properly applies these
five factors and gives several valid reasons for finding that the Plaintiff’s subjective complaints are
not entirely credible, the ALJ’s credibility determination is entitled to deference. See id.; Cox v.
Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 907 (8th Cir. 2006). The ALJ, however, cannot discount Plaintiff’s
subjective complaints “solely because the objective medical evidence does not fully support them
[the subjective complaints].” Polaski, 739 F.2d at 1322.
When discounting a claimant’s complaint of pain, the ALJ must make a specific credibility
determination, articulating the reasons for discrediting the testimony, addressing any
inconsistencies, and discussing the Polaski factors. See Baker v. Apfel, 159 F.3d 1140, 1144 (8th
Cir. 1998). The inability to work without some pain or discomfort is not a sufficient reason to find
a Plaintiff disabled within the strict definition of the Act. The issue is not the existence of pain, but
whether the pain a Plaintiff experiences precludes the performance of substantial gainful activity.
Social Security Regulations 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529 and 20 C.F.R. § 416.929 require the analysis of two
additional factors: (1) “treatment, other than medication, you receive or have received for relief of your pain or other
symptoms” and (2) “any measures you use or have used to relieve your pain or symptoms (e.g., lying flat on your
back, standing for 15 to 20 minutes every hour, sleeping on a board, etc.).” However, under Polaski and its progeny,
the Eighth Circuit has not yet required the analysis of these additional factors. See Shultz v. Astrue, 479 F.3d 979,
983 (2007). Thus, this Court will not require the analysis of these additional factors in this case.
See Thomas v. Sullivan, 928 F.2d 255, 259 (8th Cir. 1991).
In the present action, the ALJ did not perform a proper Polaski analysis. Instead of
evaluating the Polaski factors and noting inconsistencies between Plaintiff’s subjective complaints
and the evidence in the record, the ALJ merely stated the Polaski factors, summarized Plaintiff’s
medical records, listed Plaintiff’s subjective complaints of disabling limitations, and then stated the
following: “This testimony regarding daily activities and over-the-counter pain medication is not
indicative of disabling levels of pain.” The ALJ also went on to state:
After careful consideration of the evidence, the undersigned finds that the claimant’s
medically determinable impairment could reasonably be expected to cause some of
the alleged symptoms; however, the claimant’s statements concerning the intensity,
persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not credible to the extent they
are inconsistent with the above residual functional capacity assessment with a range
of light work.
Because the ALJ stated no inconsistences and apparently did not attempt to comply with
Polaski, this case must be reversed and remanded.3 Further, on remand, when evaluating Plaintiff’s
subjective complaints, the ALJ should fully consider Plaintiff’s impressive work history. Based
upon the record, Plaintiff worked in private industry at the same company for over thirty years. (Tr.
30). Such a work history suggests Plaintiff’s subjective complaints may be more credible than the
Based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds that the decision of the ALJ, denying benefits
This remand is ordered solely for the purpose of permitting the ALJ the opportunity to comply with the
requirements of Polaski. No part of this remand should be interpreted as an instruction that disability benefits be
awarded. Upon remand, the ALJ should further evaluate the evidence and make a disability determination, subject to
this Court’s later review.
to Plaintiff, is not supported by substantial evidence and should be reversed and remanded. A
judgment incorporating these findings will be entered pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
52 and 58.
ENTERED this 15th day of June, 2011.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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