Goodin v. Social Security Administration Commissioner, No. 2:2019cv02002 - Document 13 (W.D. Ark. 2020)

Court Description: MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on January 22, 2020. (lgd)
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Goodin v. Social Security Administration Commissioner Doc. 13 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS FORT SMITH DIVISION MICHELE DAWN GOODIN PLAINTIFF vs. Civil No. 2:19-cv-02002 COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATON DEFENDANT MEMORANDUM OPINION Michele Dawn Goodin (“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 Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and a period of disability 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. 7. 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 protectively filed her disability application on January 4, 2017. (Tr. 31). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to anxiety, depression, nerve damage, a birth 1 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. 9. These references are to the page number of the transcript itself not the ECF page number. Dockets.Justia.com defect, “pinching my nerves off,” migraines, insomnia, and stomach issues. (Tr. 221). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of October 10, 2016. (Tr. 31). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 89-105). After Plaintiff’s application was denied, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on this application, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 47-84). On March 27, 2018, the SSA held an administrative hearing in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by Iva Nell Gibbons. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Larry Seifert testified at this hearing. Id. On May 2, 2018, after the administrative hearing, the ALJ entered a fully unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s application. (Tr. 28-46). The ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through March 31, 2020. (Tr. 33, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since October 10, 2016 (alleged onset date). (Tr. 33, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease (disorders of the back discogenic and degenerative); COPD; anxiety disorders; depressive disorders; and obesity. (Tr. 33, 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 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 33-35, Finding 4). In his decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined her Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 35-39, 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 light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except occasionally able to climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. She must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dust, gas and poorly ventilated areas. She should avoid hazardous machinery and unprotected heights. She can perform work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote with few variables and little judgment involved and the supervisions required is simple, direct and concrete. Id. The ALJ found Plaintiff was born on December 29, 1974 and was forty-one (41) years old on her alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 39, Finding 7). Such a person is defined as a “younger individual” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c) (2008). Id. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had at least a high school education and was able to communicate in English. (Tr. 40, Finding 8). The ALJ evaluated her Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) and determined Plaintiff did not retain the capacity to perform her PRW. (Tr. 39, Finding 6). The ALJ then determined whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 40, Finding 10). The VE testified at the administrative hearing on this issue. Id. Based upon that testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the following occupations: (1) content checker (light, unskilled) with about 14,108 such jobs nationwide; (2) merchandise marker (light, unskilled) with about 288,556 such jobs nationwide; or (3) warehouse checker (light, unskilled) with approximately 25,029 such jobs nationwide. (Tr. 40). 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 October 10, 2016 through the ate of his decision or through May 2, 2018. (Tr. 41, Finding 11). Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council’s review of the ALJ unfavorable disability determination. On November 7, 2018, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ’s disability determination. (Tr. 1-7). On January 2, 2019, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on January 3, 2019. ECF No. 7. This case is now 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) (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 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). 3. Discussion: In her appeal brief, Plaintiff raises the following four arguments for reversal: (1) the ALJ erred by failing to properly develop the evidence; (2) the ALJ failed to consider evidence which fairly detracted from his findings; (3) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate her RFC; and (4) the ALJ erred in his Step Five determination. ECF No. 11 at 1-21. As a part of her RFC argument, Plaintiff also claims the ALJ erred in assessing her credibility. ECF No. 11 at 14-16. As an initial matter, the Court notes that 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. 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. 2 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 Court finds the ALJ did not provide sufficient reasons for discounting Plaintiff’s subject complaints. In his opinion, the ALJ merely provided the following routine statement regarding those allegations: After careful consideration of the evidence, the undersigned finds that the claimant’s medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms. However, the claimant’s statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record for the reasons explained in this decision. The claimant’s subjective allegations and complaints with regard to pain and other maters have been evaluated utilizing the criteria set out in the case of Polaski vs. Heckler, 751 F.2d 943 (8th Circuit 1984), Social Security Ruling 16-3p, regulation 20 CFR 404.1529 and other relevant authority. (Tr. 38). Based upon this review, the Court finds the ALJ discounted Plaintiff’s subjective complaints based upon her medical records. 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, this case must be reversed and remanded. 4. Conclusion: 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 22nd day of January 2020. Barry A. Bryant /s/ HON. BARRY A. BRYANT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE