Jackson v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Erin L. Setser on August 30, 2013. (adw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CIVIL NO. 12-5108
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,1 Commissioner
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Katherine Jackson, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking
judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner) denying her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
(DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under the provisions of Titles II and XVI
of the Social Security Act (Act). In this judicial review, the Court must determine whether there
is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Commissioner's decision. See
42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Plaintiff protectively filed her current applications for DIB and SSI on January 22, 2009,
alleging an inability to work since December 31, 2008, due to PTSD, ADHD, OCD, a pinched
nerve, and depression. (Tr. 130, 134, 156) . An administrative hearing was held on February
11, 2010, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 22-68).
Carolyn W. Colvin, has been appointed to serve as acting Commissioner of Social Security, and is substituted as
Defendant, pursuant to Rule 25(d)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
By written decision dated November 16, 2010, the ALJ found that during the relevant
time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr.
10). Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia,
mild carpal tunnel syndrome bilaterally, degenerative joint disease of the hips bilaterally,
depressive disorder, and a generalized anxiety disorder. However, after reviewing all of the
evidence presented, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or equal the
level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I,
Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 11). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she
is limited to only occasional climbing of ramps and stairs and stooping, no
climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and no kneeling, crouching, or crawling.
She can perform frequent but not constant fingering and handling bilaterally, and
she is unable to perform overhead work. She must avoid work hazards including
dangerous machinery and heights and she is limited to no driving as a part of
work. The claimant is able to perform work where interpersonal contact is
incidental to work performed, complexity of tasks is learned and performed by
rote with few variables and use of little judgment, and supervision required is
simple, direct, and concrete.
(Tr. 12). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform work
as an assembly worker, a power screwdriver operator, a machine tender, and a machine packager.
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which
denied that request on May 2, 2012. (Tr. 1-3). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc.
1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 5). Both
parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 10,11).
This Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir.
2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but it is enough that a reasonable mind
would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. The ALJ's decision must be
affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d
964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003). 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. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). In other
words, 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. 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 her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one
year and that prevents her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. Pearsall v.
Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir.2001); see also 42 U.S.C. § § 423(d)(1)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines “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 her disability, not simply her impairment, has lasted for
at least twelve consecutive months.
The Commissioner’s regulations require her to apply a five-step sequential evaluation
process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial
gainful activity since filing her claim; (2) whether the claimant has a severe physical and/or
mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) meet or equal
an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevent the claimant from doing past
relevant work; and, (5) whether the claimant is able to perform other work in the national
economy given her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Only
if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff’s age, education, and work
experience in light of her residual functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138,
1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in concluding that the Plaintiff was not disabled
because: 1) the ALJ failed to assign proper DOT codes for the occupations Plaintiff was
allegedly qualified to perform according to her designated RFC; and 2) the ALJ discounted
Plaintiff’s allegations of disabling pain based on personal opinion outside of the medical record.
Hypothetical Question to the Vocational Expert:
Plaintiff argues that the jobs the vocational expert found Plaintiff was able to perform
were contradictory to Plaintiff’s assigned RFC. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the jobs as a
bottling line attendant, a riveting machine tender, and a candle wrapping machine operator all
required constant fingering and handling.
The Dictionary of Occupational Titles number assigned to the above mentioned jobs are
920.687-042, 699.685-030, and 920.685-030, respectively. See DICOT §§§ 920.687-042,
699.685-030, 920.685-030 at www.westlaw.com. A review of the job requirements for these
jobs revealed that the bottling line attendant, and riveting machine tender required frequent, not
constant as alleged by Plaintiff, handling, fingering, and reaching. While the job as the candle
wrapping machine operator require constant fingering and handling and does not fall within the
specified RFC in this case, as pointed out by Defendant, the vocational expert testified that
Plaintiff would be able to perform other jobs as a bakery worker, a power screwdriver operator,
and a punch board operator, all of which require at most frequent handling, reaching and
fingering. Id at §§§ 524.687-022, 920.687-042, 649.685-094.
After thoroughly reviewing the hearing transcript along with the entire evidence of
record, the Court finds that the hypothetical the ALJ posed to the vocational expert fully set forth
the impairments which the ALJ accepted as true and which were supported by the record as a
whole. Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 794 (8th Cir. 2005). Accordingly, the Court finds that the
vocational expert's opinion constitutes substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's conclusion that
Plaintiff's impairments did not preclude her from performing work as a production and assembly
worker, a power screwdriver operator, a machine tender, and a machine packager. Pickney v.
Chater, 96 F.3d 294, 296 (8th Cir. 1996)(testimony from vocational expert based on properly
phrased hypothetical question constitutes substantial evidence).
Subjective Complaints and Credibility Analysis:
The ALJ was required to consider all the evidence relating to Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints including evidence presented by third parties that relates to: (1) Plaintiff's daily
activities; (2) the duration, frequency, and intensity of her pain; (3) precipitating and aggravating
factors; (4) dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of her medication; and (5) functional
restrictions. See Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984). While an ALJ may
not discount a claimant's subjective complaints solely because the medical evidence fails to
support them, an ALJ may discount those complaints where inconsistencies appear in the record
as a whole. Id. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit observed, “Our
touchstone is that [a claimant's] credibility is primarily a matter for the ALJ to decide.” Edwards
v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003).
After reviewing the administrative record, and the Defendant’s well-stated reasons set
forth in her brief, it is clear that the ALJ properly considered and evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints, including the Polaski factors. A review of the medical evidence revealed that
Plaintiff could drive, handle finances, perform most activities of daily living reasonably, attend
church on a weekly basis, and a motorcycle club meeting on a monthly basis, and help watch her
grandchildren on occasion. (Tr. 173-180, 307). The record further revealed that in May of 2010,
Plaintiff was able to drive herself from home to her consultative evaluation, an almost three hour
drive one-way, without any difficulty. (Tr. 395).
Therefore, although it is clear that Plaintiff suffers with some degree of pain, she has not
established that she is unable to engage in any gainful activity. See Craig v. Apfel, 212 F.3d 433,
436 (8th Cir. 2000) (holding that mere fact that working may cause pain or discomfort does not
mandate a finding of disability). Accordingly, the Court concludes that substantial evidence
supports the ALJ’s conclusion that Plaintiff’s subjective complaints were not totally credible.
The ALJ’s RFC Determination:
RFC is the most a person can do despite that person’s limitations. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(1). It is assessed using all relevant evidence in the record. Id. This includes medical
records, observations of treating physicians and others, and the claimant’s own descriptions of
her limitations. Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005); Eichelberger v.
Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 591 (8th Cir. 2004). Limitations resulting from symptoms such as pain
are also factored into the assessment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3). The United States Court of
Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has held that a “claimant’s residual functional capacity is a
medical question.” Lauer v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 700, 704 (8th Cir. 2001). Therefore, an ALJ’s
determination concerning a claimant’s RFC must be supported by medical evidence that
addresses the claimant’s ability to function in the workplace. Lewis v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642,
646 (8th Cir. 2003). “[T]he ALJ is [also] required to set forth specifically a claimant’s
limitations and to determine how those limitations affect his RFC.” Id.
The Court finds, based upon the well-stated reasons outlined in the Defendant’s brief,
that Plaintiff’s argument is without merit, and there was sufficient evidence for the ALJ to make
an informed decision. The Court further notes that in determining Plaintiff maintained the RFC
to perform light work with limitations, the ALJ specifically discussed the relevant medical
records, and the medical opinions of treating and non-examining medical professionals, and set
forth the reasons for the weight given to the opinions. Renstrom v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1065
(8th Cir. 2012) (“It is the ALJ’s function to resolve conflicts among the opinions of various
treating and examining physicians”)(citations omitted). Based on the record as a whole, the
Court finds substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s RFC determination for the relevant time
Accordingly, having carefully reviewed the record, the undersigned finds substantial
evidence supporting the ALJ's decision denying the Plaintiff benefits, and thus the decision
should be affirmed. The undersigned further finds that the Plaintiff’s Complaint should be
dismissed with prejudice.
DATED this 30th day of August, 2013.
/s/ Erin L. Setser
HON. ERIN L. SETSER
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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