United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Debra Andriulli (“Plaintiff” or
“Andriulli”) brings this action pursuant to
Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act
(the “Act”), seeking review of the decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) to deny her claim for disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”). See 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c). Based on the court's
review of the record and the briefs submitted by the parties,
the court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due
to be affirmed.
filed her applications for DIB and SSI on September 19, 2012,
alleging disability beginning July 5, 2012. (Tr. 76). The
claim was initially denied on January 4, 2013. (Tr. 76, 197).
After her application was denied, Plaintiff filed a written
request for a hearing. (Tr. 76). On June 4, 2014, Plaintiff
received a hearing before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) George W. Merchant. (Tr. 76, 90). On
September 30, 2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not
disabled under Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Act. (Tr.
March 17, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review of the ALJ decision. (Tr. 1-3). Following
that denial, the final decision of the Commissioner became a
proper subject of this court's appellate review. See
Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986)
(finding the ALJ decision final for purposes of judicial
review when the Appeals Council denied review).
Debra Andriulli was 47 years old at the time of the hearing,
and 49 years old on September 30, 2014, the date of the
decision. (Tr. 14-15). She has some college education and
previously worked as a school bus driver, retail cashier,
cook, shoe stocker, and commercial cleaner. (Tr. 48-49, 198,
224). She alleges that she hasn't been able to work since
July 5, 2012 due to epilepsy, a broken back, bilateral rotary
cuff tears, a bulging disc, anxiety, hypoglycemia, seizures,
and bronchitis. (Tr. 197).
precipitating event for Plaintiff's alleged disability
occurred on July 4, 2012. On that day, she had her first
syncopal episode (i.e. seizure) which led to a
concussion and injury to the shoulder and mid-back. (Tr.
244-45, 248-49). Various testing followed the seizure and
resulting fall. An MRI of Plaintiff's brain from July 13,
2012 was “of normal signal intensity” with
“no evidence of acute infarct, hemorrhage, mass or mass
effect.” (Tr. 246). An MRI of Plaintiff's thoracic
spine the following day evidenced “mild acute to
subacute compression fractures of the superior endplates of
T4 and T6” and “small Schmorl's nodes at
multiple levels.” (Tr. 247). An MRI of the left
shoulder revealed “hypertrophic and acute inflammatory
changes at the AC joint;” and “chronic posterior
tear.” (Tr. 271). An EEG produced “abnormal
results most likely representative of an individual with
seizures and postictal, ” and neurologist Dr. Pamela
Quinn diagnosed Plaintiff with seizure disorder, initiated
treatment with Depakote, and opined that Plaintiff should not
continue working as a bus driver. (Tr. 243, 249). No obvious
cause of the syncope was noted. (Tr. 326).
August 2012, Plaintiff saw Dr. Quinn for a follow-up visit
related to the July syncopal episode. (Tr. 335). Plaintiff
reported no seizures with the medication Depakote at 250
milligram tablets taken three times a day. (Tr. 335). The
following month Plaintiff went for her re-visit, and reported
“some memory loss and spacy feeling. She and her
husband are worried they may be petit mal seizures. She is
not sleeping well. Mood is not great.” (Tr. 334). Dr.
Quinn's notes from October 31, 2012 revealed that
Plaintiff was sleeping better with no seizures. (Tr. 340).
Plaintiff's Depakote level was checked on that day which
“[w]as already supposed to be done but she [Plaintiff]
neglected to do this.” (Tr. 340).
Quinn's notes from October 2012 evidence the last
documented visit that Plaintiff had with any doctor about her
seizures. The ALJ informed Plaintiff at the hearing:
“my last record stopped shortly after you filed in
September … So, we need to get records from Dr. Quinn,
Doctors Hasting and Yeager of Lake Side North, and then
Marshall Medical Center …” (Tr. 38). No such
additional documentation was ever submitted. (Tr. 84).
record does reveal Plaintiff's later doctor visits for
other medical issues, including: abdominal pain,
bronchitis, orthopedic issues,  prescription pain medication
misuse,  and adjustment disorder. Of these
additional medical issues, the focus here is on bronchitis
because Plaintiff bases her argument in this case on the
ALJ's assessment of this impairment.
medical records reveal Plaintiff had several bouts with
respiratory issues in 2011. (Tr. 371). She visited Lakeside
North Urgent Care Clinic complaining of head and chest
congestion, cough, and wheezing in July, August, and
September 2011. (Tr. 255, 364, 369, 371). Records from May
2012 and July 2013 diagnose Plaintiff with sinusitis. (Tr.
468, 470). Then, in April and May 2014, there were additional
reports from North Alabama Medical Care that evidence
complaints of respiratory issues and some diagnoses of
bronchitis and rhinosinusitis.(Tr. 463-66). On July 5, 2014
Plaintiff was admitted to Marshall Medical Center North for
symptoms consistent with “onset of recurrent issues 2.5
months ago when she had a urinary tract infection” and
“was given an unknown antibiotic and very rapidly
developed very significant diarrhea.” (Tr. 462).
“Note, during this time she has had exacerbations of
her ‘chronic bronchitis' and has also received
doxycycline. … No cough or dyspnea. No sputum
production.” (Tr. 462). The hospital course notes
revealed that a pulmonary consult was not available over the
holiday, but that the patient was doing “much
better” and “was requesting discharge.”
(Tr. 462). Plaintiff was discharged on July 10, 2014 with
diagnoses of persistent urinary tract infection and atypical
pneumonia. (Tr. 429, 462).
other medical notes are present in the record evidencing
Plaintiff's chronic bronchitis or limiting effects
thereof. Plaintiff testified that she attempted to return to
work in 2013 but after four hours of working, ended up in the
hospital with symptoms of bronchitis. (Tr. 17). She testified
that the bronchitis causes her to “run out of breath
really fast” and “cough.” (Tr. 35). She
referenced her doctor's visits in May 2014 for
respiratory issues when she “just couldn't
breathe” and “could hear it rattling” and
“[couldn't] even walk across the floor … I
can't even breathe.” (Tr. 35-36). She also
referenced her albuterol inhaler or “puffer”
given to her to “break up the congestion in [her]
chest” but added that “it's not
helping.” (Tr. 36). No information was provided by
Plaintiff as to the daily limiting effects of her
uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine a
claimant's disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) and
416.920(a). First, the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(b) and 416.920(b). Substantial gainful
activity is work done for pay or profit that requires
significant physical or mental activities. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1572(a-b) and 416.972(a-b). If the claimant has
employment earnings above a certain threshold, the ability to
engage in substantial gainful activity is generally presumed.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1574, 404.1575, 416.974, and 416.975. If
the ALJ finds that the claimant engages in ...