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Cavazos v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

April 25, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



Gilberto Cavazos filed for social security disability benefits with an alleged onset date of March 28, 2011. (R. at 79). After a hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ), denied his application, and the Appeals Council declined review. (R. at 4). Cavazos has requested judicial review, and the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge.

For the reasons stated below, this Court reverses and remands the Commissioner’s decision.

I. The Commissioner’s Decision

The ALJ found that Cavazos had the severe impairments of hypertension, non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, lumber stenosis, obesity, and mood disorder with anxiety. (R. at 17). The ALJ found that Cavazos had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work with the additional limitations that the work require only incidental interpersonal contact; that the complexity of tasks be limited to that which could be learned by demonstration or repetition within thirty days with few variables; that the work require little judgment; and that supervision be simple, direct, and concrete. (R. at 21-22).

After taking testimony from a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ found that, although Cavazos could not return to any of his prior relevant work, he could perform jobs such as sorter and final assembler and was not disabled. (R. at 30).

II. Discussion

Cavazos argues that the ALJ erred when determining Cavazos’s credibility, that the record does not support the ALJ’s decision, and that the ALJ’s questions to the vocational expert were inadequate.

On review, this Court determines whether substantial evidence on the record as a whole supports the ALJ’s decision. Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997). “Substantial evidence” is evidence that a reasonable mind would find sufficient to support the ALJ’s decision. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009). Reversal is not warranted merely because substantial evidence exists to support a contrary conclusion. Long, 108 F.3d at 187.

a. The Credibility Determination

In coming to a decision regarding Cavazos’s RFC, the ALJ found that Cavazos was not entirely credible regarding his limitations and pain level. (R. at 22, -23). The ALJ found that the limitations Cavazos testified to seemed self-imposed and that the medical records did not contain the limitations that Cavazos claimed. (R at 22-23). Cavazos maintains that the ALJ erred in the determination.

The Court defers to the ALJ’s evaluation of a claimant’s credibility when that determination is supported by good reason and substantial evidence. Turpin v. Colvin, 750 F.3d 989, 993 (8th Cir. 2014). “An ALJ may not reject subjective complaints solely because they lack support in the medical record.” Miller v. Sullivan, 953 F.2d 417, 420 (8th Cir. 1992).

In making the credibility determination, the ALJ noted only that the medical records did not establish the levels of pain that Cavazos claimed. (R. at 23). The ALJ did not observe any inconsistency with activities of daily living, and the inconsistencies that the Commissioner cites in briefing are not supported by substantial evidence. For instance, the Commissioner notes that Cavazos stated his work schedule would not allow physical therapy during an appointment that occurred on March 28, 2011, the alleged onset date. (R. at 291). This statement is not inconsistent with the onset date, especially as Cavazos has claimed that his pain worsened following surgery. (R. at 221, 249, 257).

Additionally, while some statements in the medical records indicate that Cavazos was working in 2012, his earnings records show no income for 2012 or 2013. (R. at 85). The ALJ, relying on this information, found that Cavazos had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his onset date. (R. at 17). The only mention the ALJ’s decision makes of Cavazos’s work history is to state that his varied work history and low earnings indicate a lack of motivation. Cavazos has only a ninth grade education and significant mental health issues that the ALJ recognized. (R. at 17, 22). These issues would significantly limit Cavazos’s employment opportunities. The Eighth Circuit has recognized in similar ...

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