Templeton v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on February 2, 2017. (rw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
Civil No. 4:16-cv-04014
CAROLYN W. COLVIN
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Sandra Templeton (“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 application
for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) 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. 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 her DIB application on August 13, 2012. (Tr. 14). In her
application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to being legally blind in her right eye, vision loss and
double vision in both eyes, post traumatic stress syndrome, depression and anxiety, severe depth
perception loss, peripheral vision loss in both eyes, stroke in right eye, daily headaches and pain,
short term memory loss, and trouble walking “in unfamiliar places without assistance.” (Tr. 210).
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 alleges an onset date of October 5, 2011. (Tr. 14). This application was denied initially and
again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 82-100).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied application. (Tr. 128).
The ALJ granted that request and held an administrative hearing on June 25, 2014 in Texarkana,
Arkansas. (Tr. 35-69). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel. Id.
Plaintiff, Vocational Expert (“VE”) Ms. Parker, and Medical Expert (“ME”) Dr. Cole2 testified at
this hearing. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff testified she was fifty-two (52) years old, which is defined
as a “person closely approaching advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d) (DIB). (Tr. 38). As
for her level of education, Plaintiff testified he had graduated from high school. Id.
After this hearing, on August 29, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying
Plaintiff’s application for DIB. (Tr. 11-29). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured
status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2015. (Tr. 16, Finding 1). The ALJ found
Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since October 5, 2011, her alleged
onset date. (Tr. 16, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following “severe”
impairments: history of aneurysm; affective disorder; depressive disorder NOS; anxiety; and
posttraumatic stress disorder. (Tr. 16-20, Finding 3). Despite being severe, the ALJ determined
these impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listings of
Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 20-21, Finding 4).
The ALJ then considered Plaintiff’s Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 21-28,
Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and found her claimed
limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC
The first names of “Ms. Parker” and “Dr. Cole” were not included in the transcript.
to perform the following:
After careful consideration of the entire record, I agree with the DDS consultants and
the Medical Expert the impairments reasonably result in a residual functional
capacity to occasionally lift/carry 20 pounds, frequently lift/carry 10 pounds, stand
and/or walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, and sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour
workday, except that the claimant can only understand, remember, and carry out
simple repetitive 1-2 step tasks, make decisions, accept instructions, attend and
concentrated for 2 hour periods, respond appropriately to changes in the work setting.
Interpersonal contact with the public and supervisor is limited to occasional. The
evidence of vision deficits is conflicting, but according to Dr. Sauer there would be
no visual restrictions and I adopt her finding.
The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 28, Finding 6).
Considering her RFC, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform any of her PRW. Id. The ALJ
also determined whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing is significant
numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 28-29, Finding 10). The VE testified at the administrative
hearing regarding this issue. Id. Based upon that testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained
the capacity to perform the following: (1) poultry boner (light, unskilled) and (2) poultry eviscerator
(light, unskilled). Id. Because Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform this work, the ALJ also
determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from Plaintiff’s alleged
onset date of October 5, 2011 through the date of the ALJ’s decision or through August 29, 2014.
(Tr. 29, Finding 11).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 9). On December 8,
2015, the Appeals Council denied this request. (Tr. 1-3). On February 5, 2016, Plaintiff filed the
present appeal with this Court. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court
on February 10, 2016. ECF No. 5. This case is now ripe for determination.
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 raises two arguments for reversal: (1) the ALJ erred in finding
her vision loss was a non-severe impairment; and (2) the ALJ erred in failing to give proper weight
to her non-exertional limitations. ECF No. 9 at 1-19. In making her second argument, Plaintiff
claims the ALJ’s evaluation of her subjective complaints was not proper. Id. Upon review of these
claims, the Court agrees with this argument and finds the ALJ improperly evaluated her subjective
complaints. Accordingly, the Court will only address this argument for reversal.
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. § 416.929.3 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
Social Security Regulations 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529 and 20 C.F.R. § 416.929 r equire 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.
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 properly consider Plaintiff’s subjective complaints.
Instead of complying with Polaski and considering the Polaski factors, the ALJ focused entirely on
whether Plaintiff’s subjective complaints were supported by her medical records. (Tr. 21-28).
Indeed, although the ALJ did recognize the requirements of Polaski4 and SSR 96-7p, the ALJ first
decided that for those standard to even apply, he had to first apply the “medical reasonableness” test
to see if her allegations were entirely supported by the medical records:
The Polaski analysis in the Eighth Circuit is congruent with SSR 96-7p in requiring
the determination of medical reasonableness as a “condition precedent” to the full
acceptance of the claimant’s description of limitations.
(Tr. 27) (emphasis added). The ALJ then went on to assess whether or not Plaintiff’s allegations
were “medically reasonable” given her medical records. Id. Notably, the ALJ even found Plaintiff
was “sincere and genuine,” but he discounted her subjective complaints because they were not fully
supported by her medical records. Id.
Such a practice of discounting Plaintiff’s subjective complaints because they were not
entirely supported by her medical records is completely improper under Polaski and 20 C.F.R. §
404.1529. See Polaski, 739 F.2d at 1322 (holding a claimant’s subjective complaints cannot be
discounted “solely because the objective medical evidence does not fully support them [the
The ALJ did reason he likely did not have to follow Polaski because he was in the Fifth Circuit.
(Tr. 27). Because he is required to follow 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529, which mirror the Polaski factors, the
Court need not address this issue. However, while the ALJ is based in the Fifth Circuit, this is an
Arkansas claimant from the Eighth Circuit. Thus, the ALJ should not so quickly assume that he can
subjective complaints]”). Accordingly, because the ALJ applied an incorrect standard in assessing
Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and provided no valid reasons for discounting Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints, this case must be reversed and remanded.
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.5 A
judgment incorporating these findings will be entered pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
52 and 58.
ENTERED this 2nd day of February 2017.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U. S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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.
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