Taylor v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on June 17, 2011. (dmc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
Civil No. 4:10-cv-04050
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Rangy Taylor (“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
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI 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. 5.1 Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and
orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.
Plaintiff protectively filed a disability application on September 4, 2007. (Tr. 9, 112-114,
120). In his application, Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due to heart-related condition. (Tr. 131).
Plaintiff alleged an onset date of August 22, 2007. (Tr. 9, 132). This application was denied initially
and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 43-44).
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.”
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his application, and this hearing
request was granted. (Tr. 54-66). An administrative hearing was held on August 27, 2009 in
Texarkana, Arkansas. (Tr. 17-38). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Sheila
Campbell, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff, Vocational Expert (“VE”) Jeffrey Kiel, and Plaintiff’s sister
Tangy Taylor testified at this hearing. Id. On the date of this hearing, Plaintiff was twenty-eight (28)
years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c) (2008), and had
obtained his GED. (Tr. 5-7).
On September 25, 2009, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s disability
application. (Tr. 9-16). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial
Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since September 4, 2007, his application date. (Tr. 11, Finding 1). The
ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairment: ischemic heart disease status-post
myocardial infarction. (Tr. 11, Finding 2). The ALJ also determined, however, Plaintiff did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled any of the impairments
in the Listings. (Tr. 11, Finding 3).
In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined his RFC.
(Tr. 12-14, Finding 4). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and found his
claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined, based upon his
review of Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, the hearing testimony, and the evidence in the record, that
Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform the following:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant
has no mental limitations and retains the physical residual functional capacity to lift
and carry ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally; stand and/or walk
for two to four hours per day; sit for six hours per day; and stoop, crouch, crawl,
kneel, and climb ramps/stairs occasionally. However, he is limited to no more than
occasional reaching overhead; he is precluded from climbing ladders/ropes/scaffolds
or working at heights or around sharp objects, open flames, or dangerous moving
machinery; and he also must avoid extremes of heat.
The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) and found Plaintiff had no PRW
he could perform. (Tr. 14-15, Finding 5). The ALJ then evaluated whether there was other work
existing in the national economy Plaintiff could perform, considering his age, education, RFC, and
work experience. (Tr. 15-16, Finding 8). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding
this issue. (Tr. 15-16, 18-21).
Specifically, the VE testified that a hypothetical person with Plaintiff’s limitations would be
able to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as an assembler of buttons and
miscellaneous notions with approximately 40,500 such jobs in the national economy and 1,800 such
jobs in the regional economy; envelope addresser with approximately 161,800 such jobs in the
national economy and 4,450 such jobs in the regional economy; and nut sorter with approximately
250,000 such jobs in the national economy and 5,250 such jobs in the regional economy. (Tr. 15).
Based upon this testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined
in the Act, from September 4, 2007 (the application date) through September 25, 2009 (the ALJ’s
decision date). (Tr. 16, Finding 9).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s unfavorable
decision. (Tr. 39-42). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. On March 22, 2010, the Appeals Council declined
to review the ALJ’s unfavorable disability determination. (Tr. 1-3). On April 12, 2010, Plaintiff filed
the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on April 21,
2010. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 9-10. This case is now ready for
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).
Plaintiff argues the following on appeal: (A) the ALJ erred in evaluating his subjective
complaints; (B) the ALJ erred by disregarding the testimony of his sister, Tangy Taylor; and (C) the
ALJ erred by finding he could perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national
economy. ECF No. 7 at 2-8. In response, Defendant argues that the ALJ’s disability determination
is supported by substantial evidence in the record, and Plaintiff’s claims offer no basis for reversal.
This Court will address all three of Plaintiff’s arguments for reversal.
In his briefing, Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred in his credibility determination because he failed
“to give specific reasons for findings that are supported by the record.” ECF No. 7 at 3. Plaintiff also
claims that the ALJ’s decision to disregard his subjective complaints “is not supported by . . . the
medical evidence provided [to] the ALJ within the transcript.” Id. at 7. Plaintiff, however, does not
state which specific medical evidence supports his subjective complaints regarding his inability to
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.
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.
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. See Thomas v.
Sullivan, 928 F.2d 255, 259 (8th Cir. 1991).
In the present action, Plaintiff claims the ALJ did not provide “specific reasons” for his
credibility determination. However, the ALJ provided several valid reasons for his credibility
determination: (1) Plaintiff had a very poor work record even prior to his alleged onset date; (2) in
May of 2008, Plaintiff was medically cleared to lift up to twenty pounds; (3) in August and October
of 2008, he was found to be stable after further surgery for re-stenting;(4) in 2009, the frequency of
Plaintiff’s visits to the emergency room were reduced; and (5) there is no evidence of record to show
that any physician found Plaintiff was any more functionally limited than that found by the ALJ. (Tr.
14). Because the ALJ’s credibility determination is supported by “good reasons,” it should be
affirmed. See Gregg v. Barnhart, 354 F.3d 710, 714 (8th Cir. 2003) (holding that “[i]f an ALJ
explicitly discredits the claimant’s testimony and gives good reasons for doing so, we will normally
defer to the ALJ’s credibility determination”) (citation omitted).
Further, Plaintiff argues his case should be reversed and remanded because the ALJ’s
credibility determination was not consistent with his medical records. ECF No. 7 at 7-8. As noted
above, Plaintiff does not reference which specific medical records support his alleged disability.
There are over a thousand pages in the transcript in this case. Without reference to any specific
medical records, it is nearly impossible for this Court to ascertain which medical records Plaintiff
might use in support of his claim.
However, based upon this Court’s review of the medical records and the ALJ’s opinion in this
case, it appears Plaintiff’s medical records do support the ALJ’s credibility determination. Notably,
the ALJ found that in May of 2008, Plaintiff was cleared by his treating physician Dr. Paulo Ribeiro,
M.D. to lift up to twenty pounds. (Tr. 13, 384). Further, as noted by the ALJ, on October 21, 2008,
Dr. Ribeiro found after his surgery for re-stenting that Plaintiff was “breathing well and doing
clinically well” with no carotid delay. (Tr. 13-14, 377). Dr. Ribeiro also did not state Plaintiff had
any additional limitations on his ability to lift. Based upon these records, this Court finds Plaintiff’s
medical records are consistent with the ALJ’s credibility determination.
Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred by discounting the testimony of his twin sister, Tangy Taylor.3
ECF No. 7 at 3-6. As an initial matter, the ALJ is required to consider the testimony of a claimant’s
family members, but the ALJ is not required to find that testimony is credible. See Young v. Apfel,
221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000). In the present action, the ALJ fully considered the testimony
of Tangy Taylor. (Tr. 13). The ALJ then noted that she testified Plaintiff “doesn’t visit the
emergency room as often as he used to do” and testified she did not live with her brother and only saw
him about twice per week. Id. Based upon these findings, the ALJ properly determined her testimony
was not fully credible.
In his brief, Plaintiff also references the testimony of his mother and wife. However, the only other
witness in this case who testified (apart from Plaintiff himself and the VE) was his sister, Tangy Taylor. Thus, this
Court will only review her testimony.
Other Work Determination
Plaintiff claims the ALJ improperly determined he would be able to perform other work
existing in significant numbers in the national economy. ECF No. 7 at 7-8. Plaintiff’s argument on
this issue is based upon his claim that the ALJ improperly evaluated his subjective complaints. Id.
However, as noted above, this Court finds the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints and discounted them for legally-sufficient reasons. Further, based upon that evaluation,
the ALJ then properly posed a hypothetical to the VE which included all the limitations he found
credible. See Howe v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 835, 842 (8th Cir. 2007) (holding that the ALJ’s hypothetical
question to a VE “need only include impairments that are supported by the record and that the ALJ
accepts as valid”). Accordingly, this Court finds Plaintiff’s argument on this issue also offers no basis
Based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds that the decision of the ALJ, denying benefits
to Plaintiff, is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. A judgment incorporating
these findings will be entered pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 52 and 58.
ENTERED this 17th day of June, 2011.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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