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Kinley v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas

May 25, 2016

Columbus Franklin Kinley II Plaintiff
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant.


          JEROME T. KEARNEY, Magistrate Judge.


         The following recommended disposition was prepared for U.S. District Judge Susan W. Wright. A party to this dispute may file written objections to this recommendation. An objection must be specific and state the factual and/or legal basis for the objection. An objection to a factual finding must identify the finding and the evidence supporting the objection. Objections must be filed with the clerk of the court no later than 14 days from the date of this recommendation.[1] The objecting party must serve the opposing party with a copy of an objection. Failing to object within 14 days waives the right to appeal questions of fact.[2] If no objections are filed, Judge Wright may adopt the recommended disposition without independently reviewing all of the record evidence.

         Reasoning for Recommended Disposition

         Colombus Franklin Kinley II seeks judicial review of the denial of his second application for social security disability benefits.[3] Kinley last worked as a deliveryman for a seed company.[4] He was terminated for missing work days due to illness.[5] Kinley sought other employment, but was unsuccessful. He applied for disability benefits and based disability on a heart murmur, nerve problems, high blood pressure, bleeding ulcers, and colon problems.[6]

         The Commissioner's decision. The ALJ identified ulcerative colitis and adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression as severe impairments.[7] The ALJ determined Kinley can do some unskilled light work.[8] After consulting a vocational expert, the ALJ determined jobs exist that Kinley can do and denied the application.[9]

         After the Appeals Council denied review, [10] the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision for the purpose of judicial review.[11] Kinley filed this case to challenge the decision.[12] In reviewing the decision, the court must determine whether substantial evidence supports the decision and whether the ALJ made a legal error.[13] This recommendation explains why substantial evidence supports the decision and why the ALJ made no legal error.

         Kinley's allegations. Kinley challenges most aspects of the ALJ's decision: (1) the consideration of ulcerative colitis, (2) the evaluation of his credibility, (3) the weight given to medical opinions, (4) the determination that he can do light work, and (5) the jobs the vocational expert identified. He contends substantial evidence does not support the decision.

         Applicable legal principles. For substantial evidence to exist, a reasonable mind must accept the evidence as adequate to show Kinley can do some light unskilled work.[14] "Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds."[15] The ALJ placed the following requirements on light work:

(1) no climbing ladders/ropes/scaffolds;
(2) no exposure to hazards;
(3) incidental interpersonal contact;
(4) one or two step tasks that can be learned and performed by rote;
(5) little required judgment;
(6) simple, direct, concrete supervision; and
(7) SVP of 1 or 2 and can be learned in 90 days.[16]

         The first two requirements flowed from physical impairment; the last five, from mental impairment. A reasonable mind will accept the evidence as adequate to support the decision for the following reasons:

1. Kinley's physical impairment responds to treatment. Under social security law, an impairment that can be controlled by treatment or medication is not considered disabling.[17] The year before he was terminated, Kinley experienced periodic bouts of abdominal pain, diarrhea, and nausea. Initially, he was treated for gastroenteritis - irritation of the digestive tract[18] - but later, a diagnostic testing showed colitis - inflammation of the colon.[19] Symptoms of colitis include diarrhea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, weight loss, and fatigue. "Most people go though periods of remission followed by periods of flare-ups when symptoms worsen."[20] Treatment focuses on controlling symptoms to improve quality of life. [21]
Medical records show treatment controlled Kinley's symptoms, but Kinley lacked medical insurance. He sought treatment for flare-ups, but received no regular treatment. During the 23 months for which benefits were denied, Kinley went to a hospital emergency room five times for colitis symptoms; diagnostic testing showed no colitis.[22] Except for a visit when his blood pressure was very high, he was treated and released. Two weeks before the hearing, a primary care physician characterized colitis as stable.[23] A reasonable mind will accept the evidence as adequate to support the decision because it shows Kinley's symptoms can be controlled by treatment.
2. Inconsistency supports the credibility evaluation. Before determining a claimant's ability to work, an ALJ must evaluate the claimant's credibility because subjective complaints play a role in determining the ability to work.[24] An ALJ may discount a claimant's subjective complaints based on inconsistencies in the evidence as a whole.[25]
The ALJ properly discounted Kinley's testimony about the severity of his symptoms based inconsistency. Kinley testified that he experienced 40 bowel movements daily, [26] but medical evidence provided no basis for such severe symptoms. Diagnostic tests were negative. Six weeks later, he reported 5 bowel movements per day. The temporal proximity of these inconsistent reports, and the results of diagnostic testing, undermine Kinley's credibility.
3. The ALJ properly reconciled medical opinion evidence. Kinley complains because the ALJ discounted the first medical examiner's report and relied on the second medical examiner's report. The ALJ must resolve conflicts in medical opinions to determine a claimant's ability to work.[27] The ALJ may reject a ...

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