Price v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on July 15, 2021. (mjm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
HOT SPRINGS DIVISION
Civil No. 6:20-cv-06104
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION 1
Abigail Price (“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
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title 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. 5. 2 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 disability application on July 23, 2018. (Tr. 11). In her
application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to ankylosing spondylitis, degenerative disc
Kilolo Kijakazi became Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration on July 9, 2021.
Pursuant to Rule 25(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Kilolo Kijakazi should be substituted as
the defendant in this suit. No further action needs to be taken to continue this suit by reason of the last
sentence of section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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. 14.
These references are to the page number of the transcript itself not the ECF page number.
disease, osteo and regular arthritis, recovered bulimic, major depressive disorder, suicide ideology,
post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), and bipolar disorder. (Tr. 81, 250). Plaintiff alleged an
onset date of May 25, 2018. (Tr. 11, 81). This application was denied initially and again upon
reconsideration. (Tr. 150-153, 159-161). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing,
and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 163-172).
On November 13, 2019, the ALJ held an administrative hearing. (Tr. 31-78). At this
hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by Sherri A. McDonough. Id. Plaintiff and
Vocational Expert (“VE”) Elizabeth R. Clem testified at this hearing. Id. During this hearing,
Plaintiff testified she was forty-three (43) years old, which is defined as a “younger individual.”
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c). (Tr. 35). The ALJ found Plaintiff had a least a high school education
and was able to communicate in English. (Tr. 22). At the hearing, Plaintiff testified, “I have some
college, about a semester of college in my background. I am a high school graduate as well.” (Tr.
On January 21, 2020, after the administrative hearing, the ALJ entered a fully unfavorable
decision denying Plaintiff’s application. (Tr. 8-24). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged
in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since July 23, 2018, her application date. (Tr. 13). The
ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease; history
of diverticulitis; fibromyalgia; obesity; status post bilateral foot fractures; PTSD; and bipolar
disorder. Id. Despite being severe, the ALJ determined Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14-16, Finding 3).
In his decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined her
Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 16-21, Finding 4). 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 C.F.R. 416.967(a) except the claimant can occasionally stoop, crouch, bend,
kneel, crawl, and balance; occasionally reach overhead; frequently finger and
handle; and occasionally use her lower extremities for foot controls and pedals.
The claimant can perform work that is simple, routine, and repetitive with
supervision that is simple, direct, and concrete. The claimant can occasionally
interact with co-workers, supervisors, and the public. The claimant requires a
workplace with access to restroom facilities.
(Tr. 16, Finding 4).
The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) and found Plaintiff was unable
to perform any of her PRW. (Tr. 22, Finding 5). The ALJ then considered whether Plaintiff
retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national
economy. (Tr. 22-23, Finding 9). In making this determination, the ALJ relied upon the testimony
of the VE. Id. Specifically, the VE testified Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform work as a
machine tender (sedentary) with 180,000 jobs available in the national economy, and an assembler
(sedentary) with 150,000 jobs available in the national economy. (Tr. 23). 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 July 23, 2018, or through January 21, 2020, the date of his
decision. (Tr. 23, Finding 10).
Plaintiff requested the Appeal’s Council’s review of this unfavorable disability
The Appeals Council denied this request on August 10, 2020.
Thereafter, on September 18, 2020, Plaintiff appealed her administrative case to this Court. ECF
No. 1. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on September 18, 2020. ECF No. 5.
Both Parties have filed their appeal briefs, and this matter is now ripe for consideration. ECF Nos.
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).
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. See Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211,
1217 (8th Cir. 2001); see also 42 U.S.C. § 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(D). A Plaintiff must show that his or her disability, not
simply his or 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 his or 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 his or her age, education, and experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The fact finder only
considers Plaintiff’s age, education, and work experience in light of his or her residual functional
capacity if the final stage of the analysis is reached. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).
In her appeal brief, Plaintiff rases the following two arguments for reversal: (1) the ALJ
erred in evaluating Plaintiff’s subjective complaints; and (2) the ALJ erred in assessing Plaintiff’s
RFC. ECF No. 16. Because the Court finds the ALJ erred in assessing her subjective complaints,
the Court will only address Plaintiff’s first 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
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.
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 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 comply with the requirements of Polaski. Instead,
the ALJ based his credibility determination almost entirely upon the fact that Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints were not supported by her medical records. (Tr. 17-21). In his opinion, the ALJ
summarized Plaintiff’s medical records and discounted Plaintiff’s subjective complaints because
they were not supported by the objective medical records. Indeed, in this opinion, the only non-
medical evidence the ALJ considered was Plaintiff’s daily activities. (Tr. 17-18). This involved
only a limited discussion of Plaintiff’s daily activities. Id.
Based upon this review, the Court finds the ALJ’s assessment of Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints was improper. 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 subjective complaints]”).
Accordingly, because the ALJ provided an
insufficient basis for discounting Plaintiff’s subjective complaints during the relevant time-period,
this case must be reversed and remanded.
Based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds the ALJ’s RFC determination and credibility
analysis are not supported by substantial evidence in the record. As such, this case is reversed and
remanded for further findings consistent with this opinion. A judgment incorporating these
findings will be entered pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 52 and 58.
ENTERED this 15th day of July 2021.
Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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