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Administrative – Social Security – Disability – Subjective Pain Complaints – Daily Activities

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//February 10, 2023

Administrative – Social Security – Disability – Subjective Pain Complaints – Daily Activities

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//February 10, 2023

In this social security disability case, the administrative law judge erred by disregarding the claimant’s statements about her abdominal pain because the ALJ could not find an objective medical explanation for the intensity of her pain. The ALJ also erred by discrediting the claimant’s assertions of disabling pain based largely on her ability to perform modest daily activities.

We vacate the district court’s decision to uphold the denial of benefits. We remand for further proceedings.

The ALJ mentioned the lack of an official diagnosis in the same paragraph in which he noted that the residual functional capacity was supported by the evidence of record. To be sure, the ALJ did not explicitly state that the lack of “cause for abdominal pain” was a primary reason to disregard the claimant’s complaints. However, the placement of this sentence implies that it was strongly related to the ALJ’s consideration of the claimant’s functional capacity.

The ALJ also failed to explain how the claimant’s ability to perform modest housework (such as cleaning, laundry, and cooking simple meals, with many breaks), drive (not daily), and enjoy physically undemanding, sedentary hobbies (watching television) undermined her assertions about her pain. In addition, the ALJ improperly relied upon the claimant’s daily activities without also considering her qualifying statements that her ability to participate in these activities had lessened over time and that, even back in 2014, she proffered that she could only perform the activities intermittently and with breaks and rest due to pain and fatigue. Given the claimant’s testimony that nearly all activities were intermittent and required numerous breaks, we conclude that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ’s conclusion that the claimant’s daily activities were inconsistent with her subjective complaints of pain. Moreover, the ALJ did not explain how the claimant’s limited activities demonstrated an ability to persist through an eight-hour workday, five days a week.

The only other bases provided by the ALJ for rejecting the claimant’s testimony regarding her debilitating pain were the increase in her weight, the fact that some of her symptoms might be caused by opiate use, and the fact that the medical records did not mention that the claimant used a cane. While increased weight and contradictory evidence about cane use could support rejecting the claimant’s testimony about the extent of her abdominal and back pain, absent any analysis by the ALJ, these factors are insufficient to overcome her ongoing complaints of pain, the prescription of strong pain medication, and her testimony as to her ability to complete daily tasks. Regarding the claimant’s use of narcotics, the ALJ did not provide any discussion as to whether stopping their use would increase her pain, even if it decreased her GI symptoms. Moreover, if the ALJ believed that the claimant’s GI symptoms were caused by narcotics, it is unclear why the ALJ partially discounted her complaints of GI issues.

The ALJ’s determination that the claimant’s daily activities were inconsistent with her complaints of disabling pain was not supported by substantial evidence, and the ALJ erred in considering the lack of objective evidence as a primary reason for rejecting the claimant’s subjective complaints.

Vacated and remanded.

Langston v. Commissioner of Social Security Commission (Lawyers Weekly No. 003-002-23, 10 pp.) (Per Curiam) No. 22-1257. Appealed from USDC at Orangeburg, S.C. (Kaymani Daniels West, USMJ) Daniel Mayes for appellant; Brian O’Donnell, Corey Ellis and Timothy Reiley for appellee. 4th Cir. Unpub.

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