Jackson v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on August 10, 2011. (cap)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
Civil No. 4:10-cv-04091
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Martha Jackson (“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 her applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), Social Security Income (“SSI”), and a period of disability
under Titles II and 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. 6.1 Pursuant to
this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment
in this matter.
Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI on January 8, 2008. (Tr. 11, 86-98).
Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to several different impairments, including back and leg
problems. (Tr. 114). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of October 31, 2007. (Tr. 114). These
applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 41-47, 53-56). Thereafter,
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.”
Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her applications, and this hearing request was
granted. (Tr. 57-58).
Plaintiff’s administrative hearing was held on September 24, 2009 in Texarkana, Arkansas.
(Tr. 18-34). Plaintiff was present and was represented Greg Franklin, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff,
Vocational Expert (“VE”) John Marth, and Medical Expert (“ME”) Dr. Stuart Moore testified at this
hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-two (52) years old, which is defined as
a “person closely approaching advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d), and had completed the
9th grade. (Tr. 31).
On November 9, 2009, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s
applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 11-17). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the
insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2012. (Tr. 13, Finding 1). The ALJ
determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since October 31,
2007, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 13, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following
severe impairments: disorders of the back and obesity. (Tr. 13, Finding 3). 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. 14, Finding 4).
In this decision, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and
determined her RFC. (Tr. 14-16, Finding 5). First, the ALJ stated he evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform sedentary work except Plaintiff was able to sit,
stand, or walk 6 hours each of an 8-hour workday; occasionally climb, balance, stoop, crouch, and
crawl; but not able to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Id.
The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 16, Finding 6). The ALJ
determined Plaintiff’s PRW included work as a line worker. (Tr. 16). Based upon her RFC, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff would be able to perform this PRW. Id. Based upon these findings, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from October 31, 2007
through the date of the ALJ’s decision. (Tr. 16, Finding 7).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s unfavorable decision.
(Tr. 7). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision.
(Tr. 1-3). On June 24, 2010, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented
to the jurisdiction of this Court on July 1, 2010. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs.
ECF Nos. 12, 15. 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 her appeal brief, Plaintiff claims the ALJ’s disability determination is not supported by
substantial evidence in the record. ECF No. 12 at 8-20. Specifically, Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred
(1) by failing to find Plaintiff’s impairments met or equaled a Listing, (2) in evaluating her RFC; (3)
in evaluating her subjective complaints; and (4) in the weight given to treating physician opinions.
In response, the Defendant argues the ALJ did not err in any of his findings. ECF No. 12. Because
this Court finds the ALJ improperly evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, this Court will only
address this issue Plaintiff raised.
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.
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 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.
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. As an initial matter,
the ALJ did not even state the Polaski factors. (Tr. 14-15). Although such a recitation is not
required, it is the “preferred” practice. See Schultz v. Astrue, 479 F.3d 979, 983 (8th Cir. 2007).
Further, the ALJ did not analyze the Polaski factors or note any consistencies as required by Polaski.
Instead of evaluating the Polaski factors and noting inconsistencies between Plaintiff’s
subjective complaints and the evidence in the record, the ALJ merely focused upon Plaintiff’s
medical records and noted that her subjective complaints were not supported by her medical records.
(Tr. 15). The ALJ also stated the following:
After careful consideration of the evidence, the undersigned finds that the claimant’s
medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause 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.
(Tr. 15). By discounting Plaintiff’s subjective complaints merely because they were not supported
by the medical evidence, the ALJ failed to comply with the requirements of Polaski. Thus, this case
must be reversed and remanded.3
Based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds that the decision of the ALJ, denying benefits
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 10th day of August, 2011.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
This Court reverses and remands this case only for the purpose of allowing the ALJ to fully consider the
Polaski factors and supply valid reasons for discounting Plaintiff’s subjective complaints. This Order should not be
interpreted as requiring that Plaintiff be awarded disability benefits.
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