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Simpson v. Colvin

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

July 22, 2016

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


         Jerry Simpson ("Simpson") applied for social security disability benefits, alleging a disability onset date of July 6, 2012. (R. at 126). Simpson requested a hearing before the administrative law judge ("ALJ"), and the ALJ denied benefits. (R. at 11, 20). The Appeals Council declined review. (R. at 1). Simpson then requested judicial review.

         For the reasons discussed below, this Court reverses and remands the Commissioner's decision.

         I. The Commissioner's Decision

         The ALJ found Simpson to have the severe impairments of diabetic neuropathy, morbid obesity, diabetes mellitus, anxiety, and cellulitis of the left hand (postoperative). (R. at 13). The ALJ then found that Simpson had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with additional limitations. (R. at 14). The RFC provided that: Simpson could not climb ladders or be around unprotected heights due to obesity; he could occasionally handle items with his left upper extremity (the non-dominant hand) and could use his left hand as an assistive device only; he was limited to work where interpersonal contact would be no more than incidental to the work performed, and the complexity of the work was limited to one or two step tasks that could be learned and performed by rote with few variables and little judgment; he required simple, direct, and concrete supervision; and he was limited to work that could be learned within 30 days. (R. at 14). After hearing testimony from a vocational expert ("VE"), the ALJ found that Simpson could return to his prior work as a molder press operator. (R. at 19). The ALJ also found that Simpson could perform other jobs such as light line packer or marking clerk. (R. at 20). Thus, the ALJ concluded that Simpson was not disabled.

         II. Discussion

         Simpson maintains that the ALJ erred: (1) in his RFC assessment, which is not supported by the record; (2) in failing to include impairments in his hypothetical questions to the VE; and (3) in failing to require the VE to resolve an apparent conflict between Simpson's RFC and the physical demands of the representative occupations.

         This Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision if it is not based on legal error and is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997). "Substantial evidence" is "less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision." Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009).

         A. The ALJ's RFC Determination

         Simpson contends that he cannot stand and/or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday as required to perform at the light exertional level. He further argues that the ALJ failed to include non-exertional limitations in determining his RFC and that, in arriving at his RFC determination, the ALJ relied on Simpson's activities of daily living, which do not support his alleged capacity to perform light work.

         Simpson testified that he had pain in his feet. (R. at 34). He also testified that he probably could not manage a job that required him to stand for thirty minutes at a time. (R. at 42-43). He and his wife both reported that he loses his balance easily, gets dizzy, and can walk around the block before needing to rest. (R. at 190-207). The Commissioner argues that Simpson did not complain of these difficulties to his physicians.

         The majority of the evidence supporting Simpson's contention that he cannot be on his feet for six to eight hours per day comes from Simpson and his wife's testimony and reports. Simpson reported leg pain to one doctor, but none of his treating physicians opined about his exertional level. One treating physician stated the opinion that Simpson was not disabled but stated in the same report that Simpson could not yet return to work. (R. at 466-67). Simpson's physician observed that he could walk without assistance, but that is the extent of the medical findings concerning his ability to stand or walk. (R. at 467). The ALJ's findings rely most heavily on his evaluation of Simpson's credibility.

         "[T]he ALJ may disbelieve subjective complaints if there are inconsistencies in the evidence as a whole." Goffv. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 792 (8th Cir. 2005). When determining the credibility of a claimant's subjective allegations of pain, the ALJ must examine: (1) the claimant's daily activities; (2) the duration and intensity of the pain; (3) the precipitating and aggravating factors; (4) dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of medication; and (5) functional restrictions. Miller v. Sullivan, 953 F.2d 417, 420 (8th Cir. 1992) (citing Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (1984)). The ALJ may not discount subjective complaints simply because they lack support in the medical record. Id. "When rejecting a claimant's complaints of pain, the ALJ must make an express credibility determination, must detail reasons for discrediting the testimony, must set forth the inconsistencies, and must discuss the Polaski factors." Baker v. Apfel, 159 F.3d 1140, 1144 (8th Cir. 1998). The Court defers to the ALJ's credibility determination if it is supported by good reasons and substantial evidence. Turpin v. Colvin, 750 F.3d 989, 993 (8th Cir. 2014). However, "an ALJ may not circumvent the rule that objective evidence is not needed to support subjective complaints of pain under the guise of a credibility finding." Perm v. Sullivan, 896 F.2d 313, 316 (8th Cir. 1990).

         The ALJ did not properly determine Simpson's credibility. The ALJ stated that Simpson's daily activities "are certainly not indicative of an individual who is completely unable to work." (R. at 15). Simpson's daily activities, which created the alleged inconsistencies with his testimony, were: watching television; playing with and walking two puppies; visiting with his mother; maintaining personal care; taking out trash; riding in a car; shopping with his wife; counting change; performing some household chores without help or encouragement; spending time with others; finishing tasks; getting along with others; and following written and spoken instructions.

         The Eighth Circuit has held that light housework and other such activities alone do not support a finding that a claimant can perform full time competitive work. Baumgarten v. Chater,75 F.3d 366, 369 (8th Cir. 1996). The Commissioner cites to Wagner v. Astrue,499 F.3d 842 (8th Cir. 2007), to support the contention that the ALJ properly discounted Simpson's credibility. However, the activities of daily living reported in Wag ...

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