Haynes v. Astrue
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by S. Allan Alexander on 10/30/12. (bnd)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
ANDREADA YOLANE HAYNES
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:12CV034-SAA
Commissioner of Social Security
This case involves an application under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying the application of plaintiff Andreada
Yolane Haynes for supplemental security income payments under Section 1614(a)(3) of the
Social Security Act. Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) on
February 12, 2009 alleging disability beginning on February 14, 2009.1 Docket 6, p. 355-56.
Plaintiff’s claim was denied initially on September 8, 2009, and upon reconsideration on October
8, 2009. Docket 6, p. 97-99, 62-63. She filed a request for hearing on October 22, 2009. Id. at
91. She was represented by counsel at the hearing on October 21, 2010. Id. at 353-375. The
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision on December 6, 2010, and on
December 16, 2011, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for a review. Id. at 9-20, 4-6.
Plaintiff timely filed the instant appeal from the ALJ’s most recent decision, and it is now ripe
Because both parties have consented to have a magistrate judge conduct 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.
Plaintiff initially claimed an onset date of April 23, 2007, but after a prior application
was denied, amended her onset date to February 14, 2009.
Plaintiff was born on February 17, 1969 and has a GED. Docket # 6, p. 357. She was 41
years old at the time of the ALJ’s decision. Plaintiff’s past relevant work was as a nurse’s
assistant and a housekeeper. Id. at 157. She previously applied for SSI, but was denied on
February 13, 2009. Id. at 355. Plaintiff contends that she became disabled before her
application for SSI as a result of arthritis, ruptured disc, asthma, nerve problems, diabetes, high
blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and high cholesterol. Id. at 156.
The ALJ determined that plaintiff suffered from “severe” impairments including
“disorder of the back, affective disorder, anxiety-related disorder, diabetic neuropathy, and
hypertension” (Docket #6, p. 14), but that these impairments did not meet or equal a listed
impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
Id. at 15. Based upon testimony by the vocational expert [VE] at the hearing and upon
consideration of the record as a whole, the ALJ determined that plaintiff retains the Residual
Functional Capacity (RFC) to
lift/carry and push/pull 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10
pounds frequently. She can sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday
and walk/stand for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday. Due to her
mental limitations, she can perform only routine and repetitive
tasks. The claimant can understand and carry out instructions and
can maintain attention adequately for 2 hour periods in an 8-hour
Docket 6, p. 17. Upon further analysis under applicable rulings and regulations, the ALJ
determined that plaintiff was less than fully credible in that her claimed symptoms, stated
limitations and subjective complaints – particularly concerning the intensity, persistence and
limiting effects of these symptoms – are inconsistent with the record medical evidence. (Tr. 16-
18). After evaluating all of the evidence in the record, including testimony of both plaintiff and
a VE at the hearing, the ALJ held that plaintiff could perform the job of an eye glass lens
inserter, a lamp shade assembler and a fishing lure assembler. Id. As a result, the ALJ
concluded that plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act. Id.
Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred because he did not properly determine plaintiff’s
residual functional capacity or properly evaluate plaintiff’s credibility relating to the intensity,
persistence and limiting effects of her severe impairments. Docket 6, p. 8, 9, 14.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
In determining disability, the Commissioner, through the ALJ, works through a five-step
sequential evaluation process.2 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.3 First,
plaintiff must prove she is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity.4 Second,
plaintiff must prove her impairment is “severe” in that it “significantly limits [her] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities . . . .”5 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
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 (2010).
Crowley v. Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 198 (5th Cir. 1999).
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b) (2010).
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c)(2010).
impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1, §§ 1.00-114.09 (2010).6 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.7 At step five, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to prove, considering plaintiff’s residual functional capacity, age, education and
past work experience, that she is capable of performing other work.8 If the Commissioner proves
other work exists which plaintiff can perform, plaintiff is given the chance to prove that she
cannot, in fact, perform that work.9
The court considers on appeal whether the Commissioner’s final decision is supported by
substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner used the correct legal standard. Crowley v.
Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 196 (5th Cir. 1999); citing Austin v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1170 (5th Cir. 1993);
Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990). The court has the responsibility to
scrutinize the entire record to determine whether the ALJ’s decision was supported by
substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied in reviewing the claim.
Ransom v. Heckler, 715 F.2d 989, 992 (5th Cir. 1983). The court has limited power of review
and may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner,10 even
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d) (2010). If a claimant’s impairment meets certain criteria, that
claimant’s impairments are “severe enough to prevent a person from doing any gainful activity.”
20 C.F.R. § 416.925 (2003).
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e) (2010).
20 C.F.R § 416.920(g) (2010).
Muse, 925 F.2d at 789.
Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th Cir. 1988).
if it finds that the evidence leans against the Commissioner’s decision.11 The Fifth Circuit has
held that substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Crowley v. Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 197 (5th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). Conflicts in the evidence
are for the Commissioner to decide, and if there is substantial evidence to support the decision, it
must be affirmed even if there is evidence on the other side. Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614,
617 (5th Cir. 1990). The court’s inquiry is whether the record, as a whole, provides sufficient
evidence that would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions of the ALJ. Richardson
v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). “If supported by substantial evidence, the decision of the
[Commissioner] is conclusive and must be affirmed.” Paul v. Shalala, 29 F.3d 208, 210 (5th Cir.
1994), citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971).
A. Whether the ALJ erred in determining plaintiff’s residual functional capacity.
Plaintiff contends the ALJ improperly considered plaintiff’s limitations in determining
her RFC. Specifically, she alleges that the ALJ failed to consider plaintiff’s “limitations
proximately caused by medically determinable impairments of disorder of the back, affective
disorder, anxiety related disorder, diabetic neuropathy and hypertension.” Docket 10, p. 9.
According to the Commissioner, the ALJ did account for all of plaintiff’s physical exertion
requirements and actually limited plaintiff to a reduced range of sedentary work, not a full range
Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 434 (5th Cir. 1994); Harrell v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 471,
475 (5 Cir. 1988).
of sedentary work as argued by plaintiff. Docket 11, p. 7-8. Despite plaintiff’s claim of error,
however, the court finds that the ALJ did properly consider all of her impairments, including
both her mental and physical impairments.
The ALJ performed a thorough analysis of each of plaintiff’s alleged impairments. For
instance, regarding plaintiff’s back pain, the ALJ noted that “in treatment notes from October
2008, the claimant related her pain medication helps” and concluded that there is no medical
documentation to support complaints of ineffective medication. Id. He further noted that “Dr.
Powell conducted a physical examination in December 2008 and adduced essentially negative
findings.” Id. at 18. The plaintiff had back surgery in October 2007, two and a half years before
her alleged disability onset date, and plaintiff’s symptoms were significantly improved by the
surgery. Plaintiff only cites two records relating to her back pain after her alleged onset date.
The first was a October 1, 2009 visit to North Mississippi Health Services wherein plaintiff
complained of pain on her left side “due to not having medication for several months and the
weather.” Docket 6, p. 324. The only other time it appears that plaintiff complained of back
pain after her alleged onset date was a June 26, 2010 visit to Clay County Medical Center when
plaintiff indicated that she “had back surgery 2 years ago and 2 days ago it started hurting
again.” Docket 6, p. 220.
Similarly, plaintiff alleges that the ALJ failed to properly consider plaintiff’s diabetic
neuropathy. Docket 10, p. 10. However, the ALJ noted that plaintiff was diagnosed with
diabetic neuropathy and was treated for the swelling of her feet, as well as itching. Docket 6, p.
14. In evaluating whether her diabetic neuropathy met a listing, he further found that “the record
presents no evidence of neuropathy demonstrated by significant and persistent disorganization of
motor function in two extremities resulting in sustained disturbance of gross and dexterous
movement, or gait and station.” Docket 6, p. 15. The undersigned has reviewed the record and
similarly does not find any limitations placed on plaintiff as a result of her alleged diabetic
neuropathy in excess of those included in the RFC.
The ALJ also properly considered plaintiff’s affective disorder and anxiety disorder. He
relied upon the opinions of Dr. Philip Drumheller issued after two separate comprehensive
mental status examinations and a mental RFC Assessment submitted by Dr. Linda Baker. He
considered all four broad functional areas required in the disability regulations 20 C.F.R. §404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1(Listings 12.04 Affective Disorders and 12.06 Anxiety Related
Disorders), also known as “paragraph B,” in evaluating the severity of plaintiff’s affective and
anxiety disorders. Docket 6, p. 16. He noted that she had moderate restriction in her ability to
perform daily living activities in that she is able to cook, clean and do laundry, as well as
socialize and go to church every two weeks. Id. Additionally, she can bathe and dress herself
and remember to take her medications. Id. at 14. The ALJ also noted that plaintiff has moderate
restriction in her ability to maintain social functioning and in her ability to maintain
concentration, persistence or pace, and has not experienced any episodes of decompensation. Id.
at 16. As a result, the ALJ found “[b]ecause the claimant’s mental impairments do not cause at
least two ‘marked’ limitations or one ‘marked’ limitation and ‘repeated’ episodes of
decompensation, each of extended duration, the ‘paragraph B’ criteria were not satisfied. Id.
The ALJ similarly evaluated plaintiff’s impairments and determined that they did not satisfy
“paragraph C” criteria. Id.
Plaintiff’s argument that the ALJ did not properly consider all of plaintiff’s impairments
is without merit. The ALJ properly analyzed each alleged impairment and ultimately reached an
RFC that was based upon the plaintiff’s limitations. The ALJ properly addressed the plaintiff’s
ability to perform sustained work activities and detailed record evidence to support his
conclusions. The ALJ found plaintiff not disabled after considering all of plaintiff’s alleged
impairments to the extent to which they could be accepted based upon the entire record,
including the objective medical evidence, medical opinion evidence, testimony provided by
plaintiff and a VE at the hearing, and a letter from plaintiff’s sister. This court finds that the ALJ
properly applied the law and had substantial evidence to make this determination. Therefore,
this argument is without merit.
B. Whether the ALJ erred in finding that plaintiff’s allegations concerning the
intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her severe impairments were not completely
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly afforded little weight to her allegations and
complaints. Docket 10, p. 14. The Commissioner responds that the ALJ was not required to
fully credit plaintiff’s subjective complaints because the objective evidence did not support her
allegations. Docket 11, p. 13. The Fifth Circuit has long held that “an ALJ's assessment of a
claimant's credibility is accorded great deference . . .” Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 459 (5th
The ALJ evaluated plaintiff’s allegations and complaints, found them less than fully
credible and afforded them little weight. Docket 6, p. 17. He noted that plaintiff testified that
her pain level measures seven out of ten after she takes Lortab for her back pain, but he was
unable to find any confirmation of complaints to physicians of ineffective medication. At the
hearing, plaintiff testified that the “Lortab doesn’t do any good” [ Docket 6, p. 356], even though
she had previously told her doctor that the medications help when she takes them. Id. at 207.
During that same visit, plaintiff denied back pain, joint swelling, muscle aches, muscle cramps,
muscle weakness, stiffness, etc. Id. at 209. The ALJ also noted that the objective medical
evidence contradicts plaintiff’s testimony of severe limitations in that she can only stand for 15
minutes, sit for 10 minutes and cannot lift 10 pounds. Id. at 18. For instance, although plaintiff
testified that she cannot do her household chores, Dr. Powell’s records indicate that she can
perform all of her activities of daily living. Id. at 186. Plaintiff’s sister even indicated that she
can do things such as ironing and folding clothes as long as she is sitting. Id. at 146. The ALJ
properly used his discretion in weighing the credibility of plaintiff’s complaints, and his ultimate
determination was based upon the record as a whole. Because the record amply supports the
ALJ’s conclusion, this argument is without merit.
After diligent review, the court holds that the ALJ’s decision was supported by
substantial evidence and must be affirmed. A final judgment in accordance with this
memorandum opinion will issue this day.
SO ORDERED, this, the 30th of October, 2012.
/s/ S. Allan Alexander
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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