United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division
KIM M. ALDRIDGE PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY DEFENDANT
Percy UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Kim M. Aldridge has applied for judicial review under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Commissioner of Social
Security's decision denying her applications for
disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II and
supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act. Docket 1. Plaintiff filed applications
for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income on July 8, 2013. Docket 7 at 172-74; 180-84. In both
applications, Plaintiff alleges disability beginning on July
1, 2012. Id.
agency administratively denied both of Plaintiff's claims
initially on August 12, 2013 (Id. at 58-64; 65-71)
and on reconsideration on September 30, 2013. Id. at
76-82; 83-89. Plaintiff then requested an administrative
hearing, which Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Robert Hodum
held on April 7, 2015. Id. at 110-11, 143-47. The
ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 29, 2015.
Id. at 11-18. The Appeals Council denied her request
for review on August 8, 2016. Id. at 1-4. Plaintiff
timely filed this appeal from the August 8, 2016, decision,
the undersigned held a hearing on April 26, 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 June 26, 1979, and was 35 years old at the time of
the ALJ hearing. Docket 7 at 33. She is considered to be a
younger individual for the purpose of determining disability
benefits. Id. at 17. Plaintiff has a twelfth grade
education and past relevant work as a warehouse worker and
hand packager. Id. at 36, 47. Plaintiff contends she
became disabled as a result of lupus, her inability to stand
for long periods of time, swelling in her legs, and back
cramps. Id. at 227. At the ALJ hearing, counsel for
Plaintiff stated that she has lupus, hypertension, lumbar
degenerative disease, facet arthropathy, and chronic fatigue.
Id. at 30. Plaintiff testified that her lupus causes
flare ups lasting two to three days approximately twice a
month. Id. at 37. During a flare up, Plaintiff has
difficulty using her hands, specifically gripping or grasping
objects, buttoning, zipping, typing or writing. Id.
at 40. She also has difficulty bending, stopping or squatting
and experiences severe headaches which may last between five
and six hours or up to three days. Id. at 41, 44.
established that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since June 23, 2013, the amended alleged
onset date. Id. at 13. Next, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff experienced the severe impairment of systemic lupus
erythematosus but that Plaintiff's impairment did not
meet or medically equal the severity of a listed impairment
in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R.
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and
416.926). Id. at 13-14.
Plaintiff's severe impairment, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff's demonstrated abilities were consistent with a
Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of
light work. Id. at 14-17. In making this
determination, the ALJ relied heavily on the opinions of the
state agency evaluating and consulting physicians-Dr. Madena
Gibson and Dr. Karen Hulett-who concluded that Plaintiff had
exertional limitations but could occasionally lift and/or
carry twenty pounds; frequently lift and/or carry ten pounds;
and sit, stand, and/or walk about six hours in an eight-hour
workday. Id. at 61-62, 68-69.
on his review of the medical evidence in conjunction with
Plaintiff's own statements about her symptoms and their
effects, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's
“statements concerning the intensity, persistence and
limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely
credible” because they are “inconsistent with the
treatment notes, which do not document flareups to the
frequency and severity alleged.” Id. at 15-16.
The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff's statements regarding
medication side effects are contradicted by treatment notes
indicating that she tolerated her medicines well.
Id. at 16. The ALJ discussed specific
inconsistencies between treating physician Dr. Amy Woods'
opinions and the other record evidence and afforded Dr.
Wood's opinions little weight. Id. at 16-17.
Finding the opinions of the state agency evaluating physician
and state agency consulting physician consistent with the
record as a whole, the ALJ afforded these opinions great
weight in formulating Plaintiff's RFC. Id. at
determined that Plaintiff's RFC precludes her ability to
perform past relevant work; however, based on her residual
functional capacity for the full range of light work,
“there are jobs that exist in the significant numbers
in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform.”
Id. at 17-18. The ALJ ultimately ruled that
Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, from June 23, 2013, through April 29,
2015, the date of the ALJ's decision. Id.
asserts that the ALJ erred by giving the opinion of a
non-examining physician greater weight than the examining
physician's opinion and by failing to properly assess the
treating physician's opinion. Docket 11 at 3. Plaintiff
further argues that the ALJ failed to evaluate all of the
record evidence and erred in not considering Plaintiff's
arthritis to be a severe impairment. Id.
determining disability, the Commissioner, through the ALJ,
works through a five-step sequential evaluation
process. The burden rests upon the plaintiff
throughout the first four steps of this five-step process to
prove disability, and if the 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, the plaintiff must prove she is not
currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity.Second, the 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 that 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 the 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 the plaintiff's
residual functional capacity, age, education and past work
experience, that she is capable of performing other
work. If the Commissioner proves other work
exists which the plaintiff can perform, plaintiff is given
the chance to prove that she cannot, in fact, perform that