Wright v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on June 3, 2021. (lw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
HOT SPRINGS DIVISION
Civil No. 6:20-cv-06039
Jamie Wright (“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 a
period of disability, Social Security Income (“SSI”), and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
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. 7. 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 his disability applications on July 6, 2017. (Tr. 12, 85, 100). In
these applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to back problems (arthritis), spinal stenosis,
nerve damage in legs and back, and “[sciatic] nerve issues.” (Tr. 12, 17, 85-86, 100-101, 232-245,
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” and refer to the document filed at ECF No. 15. These
references are to the page number of the transcript itself not the ECF page number.
261). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of April 16, 2016. (Tr. 12). These applications were denied
initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 157-163, 167-171).
On April 9, 2018, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 172-173). After the administrative hearing, the ALJ entered a fully unfavorable
decision denying Plaintiff’s applications. (Tr. 9-24). The ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured
status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2018. (Tr. 14, Finding 1). The ALJ also
determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since April 16,
2016, his alleged onset date. (Tr. 14, Finding 2).
The ALJ then determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: lumbar spine
degenerative disc disease status post laminectomy; osteoarthritis; atrial fibrillation; hypertension;
obstructive sleep apnea; and obesity. (Tr. 14, Finding 3). Despite being severe, the ALJ also
determined Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404 Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr.
15, Finding 4).
In his decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined his
Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 16-21, Finding 5). Specifically, the ALJ found
Plaintiff retained the following RFC:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the
claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined
in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except the claimant can never climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can no more than occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant must avoid all
exposure to hazards and temperature extremes of heat and cold. The claimant must
avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, or gases.
(Tr. 16, Finding 5).
The ALJ found Plaintiff was thirty-six years old (36) which is defined as a younger
individual under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c) (2008) and 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c) (2008). (Tr. 21,
The ALJ determined Plaintiff had a high school education and was able to
communicate in English. (Tr. 21, Finding 8). The ALJ then considered whether Plaintiff retained
the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr.
22, Finding 10). Plaintiff and the Vocational Expert (“VE”) testified at the administrative hearing
regarding this issue. (Tr. 38-60). Based upon the VE’s testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
retained the capacity to perform the requirement of representative occupations such as a food and
beverage order clerk with 50,000 jobs nationally and as a call out operator with 40,000 jobs
nationally. (Tr. 22, Finding 10). Because Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform this other
work, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from
April 16, 2016, or through March 29, 2019, the date of his decision. (Tr. 23-24, Finding 11).
Plaintiff requested the Appeal’s Councils review of the unfavorable disability
determination. On February 8, 2020, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ’s disability
determination. (Tr. 2-6). On April 1, 2020, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The
parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on April 1, 2020. ECF No. 5. Both parties have
filed their appeal briefs and this matter is now ripe for consideration. ECF Nos. 17, 18.
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)
(2010); 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 his 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 his appeal brief, Plaintiff raises the following two arguments for reversal: (1) the ALJ
erred in finding Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or equal a Listing; and (2) the ALJ erred in
evaluating Plaintiff’s subjective complaints. ECF No. 17. The Court will address both issues.
A. Listing 1.04
To qualify for disability benefits at step three, a claimant must establish that his impairment
meets or equals a listing. Johnson v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 1067, 1070 (8th Cir. 2004). Additionally,
to meet or equal a listing, Plaintiff must prove he meets all of the specific criteria. See Marciniak
v. Shalala, 49 F.3d 1350, 1353 (8th Cir. 1995).
Listing 1.04 requires evidence of disorders of the spine (e.g., herniated nucleus pulposus,
spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis,
vertebral fracture), resulting in compromise of a nerve root (including the cauda equina) or the
spinal cord WITH:
A. Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of
pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle
weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there is
involvement of the lower back, positive straight-leg raising test (sitting and supine);
B. Spinal arachnoiditis, confirmed by an operative note or pathology report of tissue
biopsy, or by appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested by severe burning
or painful dysesthesia, resulting in the need for changes in position or posture more
than once every 2 hours;
C. Lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in pseudoclaudication, established by findings on
appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested by chronic nonradicular pain
and weakness, and resulting in an inability to ambulate effectively, as defined in
20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 § 1.04.
Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred in failing to find Plaintiff’s spinal condition did not meet or
equal Listing 1.04. ECF No. 17, p. 3. The ALJ found Plaintiff’s lumbar spine degenerative disc
disease status post laminectomy to be a severe impairment, however, he determined this
impairment did not meet or equal a listing. (Tr. 15, Finding 4.).
Plaintiff’s argument relies heavily on Melanie Newman’s, APRN, opinion regarding the
stringent limitations Plaintiff has and her opinion Plaintiff is unable to work. ECF No. 17, p. 1014; (Tr. 856, 869-870). The ALJ did not find Nurse Newman’s opinion persuasive as he concluded
it was not supported by or consistent with overall treatment records, including Plaintiff’s physical
examinations. (Tr. 20). Not long after Plaintiff’s visit to Nurse Newman, Plaintiff presented to
Arkansas Spine and Pain and had an unremarkable physical exam. (Tr. 872-874). Plaintiff
exhibited normal range of motion in his cervical spine and lumbar spine. (Tr. 873-874). He had
a normal gait, normal sensory functions and reflexes, normal motor functions, and was able to heel
and toe walk. (Tr. 874).
Although Plaintiff clearly has limitations and serious health issues, after thoroughly
reviewing the record, Plaintiff fails to demonstrate he meets the requirements of Listing 1.04. The
Court finds the ALJ’s determination that Plaintiff did not meet the requirement of Listing 1.04 was
supported by substantial evidence.
B. Subjective Complaints
Plaintiff also claims the ALJ erred in assessing his subjective complaints. ECF No. 17 at
14-17. 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.
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
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.
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, this Court finds the ALJ properly addressed and discounted Plaintiff’s
subjective complaints. In his opinion, the ALJ addressed the factors from Polaski, 20 C.F.R. §
404.1529, and 20 C.F.R. § 416.929, and stated inconsistencies between Plaintiff’s testimony and
the record. (Tr. 16-21). Specifically, the ALJ noted the following: (1) Absence of objective
medical findings to support Plaintiff’s alleged disabling pain, (2) Plaintiff’s described activities of
daily living inconsistent with the record, (3) Conservative medical treatment, (4) Conditions
controlled by use of his medications, (5) Side effects of his medications, (7) Consideration of
Plaintiffs prior work history, and (8) Consideration of observations and statements submitted by
third parties. Id.
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
complaints of pain. Thus, the Court cannot find a basis for reversal on this issue. See Guilliams
v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005) (recognizing that deference is warranted where the
ALJ’s credibility determination is supported by good reasons and substantial evidence).
Based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds the ALJ’s disability determination is
supported by substantial evidence in the record and should be affirmed. A judgment incorporating
these findings will be entered pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 52 and 58.
ENTERED this 3rd day of June 2021.
Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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