JONES v. ASTRUE (October 22, 2010)

Jacklin Jones was injured in a car accident in 2001. Over the course of the next several years, she sought medical treatment as her condition worsened. She complained of lower back pain and numbness in her hands. The objective medical evidence, including the results of multiple MRIs, identified the principal problem as a mild, lower- back disc bulge. Her orthopedic surgeon advised her to discontinue the strong pain medication and instead to lose weight and begin physical therapy. She quit her job in November of 2003 because of her pain. She continued to see the orthopedic surgeon, who continued to tell her to lose weight and get into better condition. Jones sought disability benefits. At her hearing, she testified that she was in substantial pain, that she could not sit or stand for long periods, that her pain medication made her drowsy and nauseous, and that she had trouble holding onto objects. A vocational expert, responding to the ALJ's hypotheticals, testified that there were over 3000 jobs available for a person with Jones' conditions. The ALJ concluded that Jones was not disabled, finding that she could perform simple, routine, sedentary work. In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ found Jones' testimony about the intensity of her pain not credible. Judge Randa (E.D. Wis.) concluded that substantial evidence supported the decision and affirmed. Jones appeals.

In their opinion, Chief Judge Easterbrook and Circuit Judge Flaum and District Judge Hibbler affirmed. Jones' principal argument was that the ALJ's credibility determination was flawed. The Court noted that that determination is entitled to significant deference and would be overturned only if "patently wrong." Here, the ALJ credited a significant amount of Jones' testimony, there was substantial objective medical evidence in the record inconsistent with Jones' testimony regarding the extent of her pain, and Jones' treating physicians did not consider her disabled. An ALJ may not ignore subjective statements of pain simply because they are not supported by medical evidence. An ALJ may, however, consider subjective statements of pain as exaggerations when they are inconsistent with objective medical evidence. Here, the Court found that her testimony was inconsistent with objective medical evidence and concluded that substantial evidence supported the ALJ's findings.