United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division
Percy UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Alice Merl Shells has applied for judicial review under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Commissioner of Social
Security's decision denying her application for
supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act. Docket 1. Plaintiff filed an application
for benefits on July 25, 2012, alleging disability beginning
on August 1, 2000. Docket 7 at 132-37.
agency administratively denied Plaintiff's claim
initially on October 2, 2012, and on reconsideration on
January 16, 2013. Id. at 65-80, 84-87. Plaintiff
then requested an administrative hearing, which
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Susan Poulos held on August
15, 2014. Id. at 91-92, 103-08. The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on September 26, 2014. Id. at
8-23. The Appeals Council denied her request for review on
February 16, 2016. Id. at 1-4. Plaintiff timely
filed this appeal from the February 16, 2016, decision, the
undersigned held a hearing on December 14, 2016, and it is
now ripe for review.
both parties have consented to a magistrate judge conducting
all the proceedings in this case as provided in 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c), the undersigned has the authority to issue
this opinion and the accompanying final judgment. Docket 10.
was born September 27, 1973, and was 40 years old at the time
of the ALJ hearing. Docket 7 at 34. Plaintiff has a ninth
grade education and no past relevant work history.
Id. at 35, 38-39. Plaintiff contends she became
disabled because of pain causing her to suffer from
“severe impairments affecting her spine” and also
as a result of carpal tunnel syndrome affecting her left
hand. Id. at 37. Regarding Plaintiff's spinal
impediments, Plaintiff specifically claims she suffers from a
mild foramina encroachment in her lumbar spine and disk
extrusion and fibrosis tear in her cervical spine.
Id. At the ALJ hearing, Plaintiff testified that she
experiences pain in her back, arm, leg, and hip with the most
significant pain in her back. Id. at 42. She stated
that she could walk “maybe half a football field”
before experiencing pain in her left hip; she could stand and
sit “maybe a couple of hours or so”; and she
could lift between five and ten pounds. Id. at
45-46. Plaintiff claimed that she could count change or sort
things with her left hand despite the effects of carpal
tunnel syndrome and that the brace she has been instructed to
wear “helps a lot” with the pain. Id. at
established that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since July 24, 2012, the amended alleged
onset date. Id. at 13. Next, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff experienced the severe impairments of carpal tunnel
syndrome and degenerative disk disease but that
Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal a
listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1 (20 C.F.R. 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926). Id.
at 13, 15.
Plaintiff's severe impairments, ALJ found that
Plaintiff's demonstrated abilities were consistent with a
Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform light work.
Id. at 16-17. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could
“lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten
pounds frequently; […] stand and walk a total of six
hours out of an eight-hour work day; […] sit six hours
of an eight-hour workday; […] occasionally balance,
stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl; […] never climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds and […] occasionally climb
ramps and stairs.” Id. at 16. Further, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff retained the ability to
“perform work that allows her to avoid concentrated
exposure to workplace hazards, such as unprotected heights,
moving machinery, as well as temperature extremes, […
and] vibration.” Related to Plaintiff's carpal
tunnel syndrome, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could
“occasionally reach, handle, and finger objects with
the left, non-dominant, extremity.” Id. at 16.
physician Amy Tucker, M.D. considered Plaintiff unable to
adequately perform daily activities or work due to her pain
and determined that bed rest was medically necessary.
Id. at 17-18. However, the ALJ found that “the
medical records do not reflect substantial limitations from
[Plaintiff's] physical conditions to support her
allegations of debilitating symptoms.” Id. at
17. Consequently, the ALJ afforded little weight to Dr.
Tucker's medical source statement, finding that Dr.
Tucker's opinions are “inconsistent with the
preponderance of the objective medical evidence.”
Id. at 17-18.
examining physician J.C. Adams, M.D. assessed Plaintiff as
having the RFC to perform light work with the following
restrictions: no restrictions in her ability to sit, stand,
and walk; occasional balancing, stooping, crouching, and
kneeling but never crawling or climbing; frequent pushing and
pulling and occasional handling, fingering and reaching in
all directions. Id. at 19. Dr. Adams noted that the
restrictions he provided are greater than what he would
expect from Plaintiff's conditions. Id. at 19.
The ALJ afforded significant weight to Dr. Adams's
opinions, finding them consistent with the objective medical
on her review of the medical evidence and in conjunction with
Plaintiff's allegations, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff's “statements concerning the intensity,
persistence and limiting effects of [her] symptoms are not
credible to the extent they are inconsistent with the
[ALJ's] residual functional capacity assessment”
because they are “inconsistent with the preponderance
of the objective medical evidence.” Id. at 21.
found that Plaintiff's residual functional capacity to
perform the full range of light work is impeded by additional
limitations. Id. at 22. Having questioned the
vocational expert (VE) regarding whether jobs existed in the
national economy for an individual of the Plaintiff's
age, education, work experience, and residual functional
capacity, the ALJ noted the VE's testimony that given
those factors, the individual would be able to perform the
requirements of occupations such as a cashier, wiper, and
bagger. Id. The ALJ ultimately ruled that Plaintiff
had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, since July 24, 2012, the date her application
was filed. Id.
claims that the ALJ's residual functional capacity
conclusion is not supported by substantial evidence and that
the ALJ erred as a matter of law in failing to reconcile the
key differences between the VE's opinion and information
provided in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT).
Docket 12 at 13.
determining disability, the Commissioner, through the ALJ,
works through a five-step sequential evaluation
process. The burden rests upon plaintiff throughout
the first four steps of this five-step process to prove
disability, and if plaintiff is successful in sustaining her
burden at each of the first four levels, then the burden
shifts to the Commissioner at step five. First, plaintiff
must prove she is not currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity. Second, plaintiff must prove her
impairment is “severe” in that it
“significantly limits [her] physical or mental ability
to do basic work activities . . . .” At step three the
ALJ must conclude plaintiff is disabled if she proves that
her impairments meet or are medically equivalent to one of
the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App.
1, §§ 1.00-114.09 (2010). If plaintiff does not meet
this burden, at step four she must prove that she is
incapable of meeting the physical and mental demands of her
past relevant work. At step five, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to prove, considering ...