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Simmons v. Colvin

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

August 1, 2016

ROBERT SIMMONS PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          ORDER REMANDING TO THE COMMISSIONER

          J. THOMAS RAY United States Magistrate. Judge.

         Robert Simmons (“Simmons”) applied for supplemental security income benefits with an alleged onset date of January 1, 2012. (R. at 47). After a hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ) denied his application. (R. at 20). The Appeals Council denied Simmons’s request for review. (R. at 1). The ALJ’s decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Simmons has requested judicial review.[1]

         For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner’s decision must be reversed and remanded.

         I. The Commissioner’s Decision

         The ALJ proceeded through the five-step evaluative process, finding that Simmons had the severe impairments of status-post compression fractures of the thoracic spine, obesity, post-traumatic stress disorder, and major depressive disorder. (R. at 11). The ALJ found that Simmons retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; stand and/or walk six hours in an eight-hour workday; sit six hours in an eight-hour workday; and to push and/or pull twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. (R. at 13). Non-exertionally, the ALJ concluded that Simmons had the RFC to understand, remember, and carry out simple job instructions; make judgments in simple, work-related situations; respond appropriately to coworkers/supervisors with only incidental contact that is not necessary to perform work; respond appropriately to minor changes in the usual work routine; and have no dealings with the general public. (R. at 13).

         At step 4 of the evaluative process, the ALJ found that Simmons could not perform any of his past relevant work. (R. at 18).

         At step 5, the ALJ found that Simmons could perform the jobs of hand bander or production worker. (R. at 19). Consequently, the ALJ held that Simmons was not disabled. (R. at 20).

         II. Discussion

         Simmons argues that the ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Specifically, he contends that the ALJ erred in discrediting his subjective allegations of pain.

         This Court must 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 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).

         “[T]he ALJ may disbelieve subjective complaints if there are inconsistencies in the evidence as a whole.” Goff v. 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 will defer to an 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). “[A]n 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.” Penn v. Sullivan, 896 F.2d 313, 316 (8th Cir. 1990).

         The ALJ discussed several factors in the course of discrediting Simmons. First, the ALJ cited Simmons’s activities of daily living, which included preparing simple meals, such as microwave meals or sandwiches; folding laundry, though unable to finish; watching television; and occasionally riding in a car. (R. at 36-37, 189-96). The ALJ stated that these daily activities “are not limited to the extent that one would expect given the complaints of disabling symptoms and limitations.” (R. at 16).

         The Eighth Circuit has held that activities far more extensive than those engaged in by Simmons do not support a finding that a claimant can engage in fulltime competitive work. Baumgarten v. Chater, 75 F.3d 366, 369 (8th Cir. 1996). It is not necessary for Simmons to “prove that [his] pain precludes all productive activity and confines [him] to a life in front of the television.” Id. Simmons, however, testified that his impairments do practically keep him confined to sitting and watching television. (R. at 36). These extremely limited daily activities do not exemplify the ability to do competitive work.

         Second, the ALJ found that Simmons’s symptoms were controlled by medication. (R. at 15). There is nothing in the record to indicate that Simmons’s pain is controlled. The record indicates that pain medicine helps and that Simmons has sought refills of medication when he runs out, but this ...


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