Hampton v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on December 21, 2009. (sh)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS HOT SPRINGS DIVISION ANTHONY WAYNE HAMPTON PLAINTIFF
Civil No. 6:08-cv-06089 DEFENDANT
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE Commissioner, Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION Anthony Wayne Hampton ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act ("The Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying his applications for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") 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. (Doc. No. 4).1 Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter. 1. Background: Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on August 6, 2006. (Tr. 74-78). Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due to back pain, knee pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 11,100). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of June 8, 2006. (Tr. 74). This application was initially denied on September
The docket numbers for this case are referenced by the designation "Doc. No." The transcript pages for th is case are referenced by the designation "Tr."
8, 2006 and was denied again on reconsideration on December 19, 2006. (Tr. 50-53). On January 4, 2007, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his applications. (Tr. 67). This hearing was held on January 10, 2008 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. (Tr. 32-49). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Charles Padgham, at this hearing. See id. Plaintiff, and Vocational Expert ("VE") Nancy Hughes testified at this hearing. See id. On the date of this hearing, Plaintiff was thirty-four (34) years old, which is defined as a "younger person" under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c) (2009), and had an eighth grade education. (Tr. 35). On July 14, 2008, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 9-19). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity ("SGA") since June 8, 2006. (Tr. 11, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, with a disc herniation at the L3-4 level; obesity; hypertension; osteoarthritis of the right knee; and well controlled noninsulin dependant diabetes mellitus. (Tr. 11, Finding 3). The ALJ also determined, however, that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 ("Listings"). (Tr. 12, Finding 4). In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 13-17). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints pursuant to the requirements of Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th Cir. 1984) and found his claimed limitations were not totally credible. (Tr. 16). Second, the ALJ determined, based upon this review of Plaintiff's subjective complaints, the hearing testimony, and the evidence in the record, that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform less than a sedentary level of work, with standing or walking restricted to two 2
hours out of an eight hour day; sitting six hours in an eight hour day; no limitation in pushing or pulling; and occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. (Tr. 13, Finding 5). The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work ("PRW") and his ability to perform that work and other work in the national economy. (Tr. 17-18, Findings 6, 10). Plaintiff and the VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding these issues. (Tr. 36, 46-48). Based upon this testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's PRW included work as a fast food manger, maintenance man, and security officer. (Tr. 17). The ALJ determined Plaintiff would be unable to perform his PRW. (Tr. 17, Finding 6). However, the ALJ also determined Plaintiff would be able to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 17, Finding 10). Specifically, the VE testified Plaintiff would be able to perform work as a receptionist with approximately 4,000 such jobs in Arkansas and 500,000 such jobs in the nation, dispatcher of motor vehicle with approximately 500 such jobs in Arkansas and 50,000 such jobs in the nation, and telephone answering operator with approximately 700 such jobs in Arkansas and 100,000 such jobs in the nation. (Tr. 47-48). Thereafter, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from June 8, 2006 through the date of his decision or through July 14, 2008. (Tr. 18, Finding 11). On July 21, 2008, Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 4-5). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. On September 15, 2008, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-3). On September 29, 2008, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. (Doc. No. 1). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on October 14, 2008. (Doc. No. 4). Both parties have filed appeal briefs. (Doc. Nos. 6,7). This case is now 3
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 4
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). 3. Discussion: Plaintiff brings the present appeal claiming the ALJ erred in his evaluation of Plaintiff's subjective complaints of pain and erred in his evaluation of Plaintiff's credibility. In response, Defendant argues the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's subjective complaints of pain. Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred in evaluating his subjective complaints. 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
Social Security Regulations 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529 and 20 C.F.R. § 416.929 require the analysis of two a d d itio n a l factors: (1) "treatment, other than medication, you receive or have received for relief of your pain or other s ym p to m s " and (2) "any measures you use or have used to relieve your pain or symptoms (e.g., lying flat on your
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 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).
back, standing for 15 to 20 minutes every hour, sleeping on a board, etc.)." However, under Polaski and its progeny, th e Eighth Circuit has not yet required the analysis of these additional factors. See Shultz v. Astrue, 479 F.3d 979, 9 8 3 (2007). Thus, this Court will not require the analysis of these additional factors in this case.
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in failing to properly apply the five factors from Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th Cir. 1984). The Defendant argues the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints of pain in compliance with Polaski. Defendant further states the ALJ found Plaintiff not fully credible based on the lack of objective medical findings, evidence showing he was capable of greater activity than alleged, conservative medical treatment, and inconsistencies between Plaintiff's testimony and the record as a whole. In the present action, this Court finds the ALJ properly addressed and discounted Plaintiff's subjective complaints. In his opinion, the ALJ outlined the Polaski factors, addressed those factors, and stated inconsistencies between Plaintiff's testimony and the record. (Tr. 14-17). Specifically, the ALJ noted the following: (1) Plaintiff's very restricted pattern of daily living was inconsistent with the objective clinical and medical findings, (2) Plaintiff did not have regular or frequent medical treatment and failed to follow up with treatment, (3) Plaintiff's physician's had not placed any limitations on his daily activities, (4) Plaintiff's medical records did not support his claimed functional limitations, (5) There was no indication of adverse affects from Plaintiff's medication use and Plaintiff used common over-the-counter medication, and (6) Plaintiff failed to comply with medical advice and continued to abuse tobacco products. These findings are valid reasons supporting the ALJ's credibility determination, and this Court finds the ALJ's credibility determination is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. See Lowe, 226 F.3d at 971-72. Accordingly, the ALJ did not err in discounting Plaintiff's subjective complaints of pain. 4. Conclusion: Based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds that the decision of the ALJ, denying benefits 7
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 day of 21st December, 2009.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant HON. BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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