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White v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

July 12, 2018

BONNIE E. WHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Bonnie E. White (“Plaintiff” or “White”) brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), seeking review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying her claims for supplemental security income (“SSI”). See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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.

         I. Proceedings Below

         On February 10, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI, alleging a disability onset date of January 5, 2011. (Tr. 42, 88-89, 162-64, 176). She later amended her alleged disability onset date to the date she filed her application, February 10, 2014. (Tr. 59-60, 88). Plaintiff's initial application was denied by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on May 30, 2014. (Tr. 88-101). After the denial, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”). (Tr. 57-82, 110-12). That hearing was held in front of ALJ Perry Martin on February 10, 2016. (Tr. 57-82, 126-130, 149). In his decision dated April 20, 2016, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, since February 10, 2014. (Tr. 52). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 3, 2017. (Tr. 1-7). That denial was the final decision of the Commissioner, and is therefore a proper subject for this court's appellate review.

         II. Facts

         Plaintiff was born on December 17, 1958 and was 55 years old on the date of her alleged disability onset. (Tr. 39, 64, 89, 163, 176). She alleges disability due to migraines, bulging discs, a pinched nerve, and irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS”). (Tr. 179). Plaintiff has a GED and last worked for Spring Air Cleaners sorting and delivering clothes. (Tr. 65). She was let go from that job in September 2007 and has not worked since. (Tr. 66, 179).

         Plaintiff's physician, Dr. Larry Alford with Norwood Clinic, began treating her for headaches on January 18, 2010. (Tr. 282). Plaintiff complained of headaches with photophobia, but denied nausea, vomiting, and phonophobia. (Id.). She described the headaches as “bitemporal” and “throbbing” and indicated they were brought on by stress. (Id.). She reported that her last headache had occurred the day before her meeting with Dr. Alford. (Id.). Plaintiff was instructed to follow up with neurology. (Tr. 283).

         Almost a year later, on November 3, 2010, Plaintiff returned to the Norwood Clinic, complaining of headaches with nausea, photophobia, and phonophobia but no vomiting. (Tr. 279). She again described the headaches as “bitemporal” and “throbbing, ” with her last headache occurring the day of her meeting with the doctor. (Id.). Dr. Grinder noted a long history of migraines and that various medications had provided no relief. (Id.). Dr. Grinder prescribed “IM or SQ injection, ” Toradol, and an increased dose of Phenergan. (Tr. 280).

         Plaintiff returned to the doctor in January 2011 complaining of diarrhea. (Tr. 276). She denied nausea and vomiting, but reported that her symptoms had been present for months, with the pain worse with meals. (Id.). Plaintiff was diagnosed with IBS and anxiety disorder. (Tr. 278).

         In March 2011 Plaintiff complained of abdominal pain at a visit with Dr. Alford. (Tr. 271). Dr. Alford noted that the “[p]ain is worse with meals and movement. Pain appears better with rest. Past history for abdominal pain shows history of IBS. Ineffective treatments include the following antacids. Prior diagnostic testing to date for abdominal pain includes colonoscopy.” (Id.). Plaintiff was diagnosed with a recurrent UTI. (Tr. 273).

         In January 2012, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Alford for a six-month checkup. (Tr. 263). She complained of bitemporal headaches without nausea or vomiting. (Id.). Plaintiff also complained of right neck and shoulder pain she described as “dull.” (Id.). Dr. Alford made no specific diagnosis but discussed exercises and use of hot and cold therapy and medication to treat the pain. (Tr. 265). He noted decreased range of motion in the neck and the cervical spine. (Tr. 264-65). He once again referred Plaintiff to neurology for evaluation of the headaches. (Tr. 266).

         In May 2012, Plaintiff again complained of bitemporal headaches to Dr. Alford, this time with nausea, but denied vomiting, photophobia, and phonophobia. (Tr. 260). Plaintiff reported her last headache had occurred a few days prior and described the pain as throbbing and sharp. (Id.). On physical exam, Dr. Alford noted decreased range of motion in her neck and the cervical spine. (Tr. 261). Plaintiff was told to follow up with neurology. (Tr. 262). In November 2012, Plaintiff saw Dr. Alford again for six-month checkup and complained of bitemporal headaches with throbbing pain yet without nausea or vomiting. (Tr. 256). She reported her last headache had occurred the day before, but Dr. Alford noted that Botox therapy at the neurologist was working. (Tr. 256, 259). On physical exam, Dr. Alford noted decreased range of motion of the cervical spine. (Tr. 258).

         On March 31, 2013, Plaintiff completed a Headache Questionnaire for the disability office and stated severe headaches occur “every day two-three times a day” lasting “about 2-3 hours” and precipitated by stress. (Tr. 187-88).

         In May 2013, Plaintiff saw Dr. Alford again complaining of dull, sharp headaches without nausea or vomiting. (Tr. 251). She reported her last headache occurred that day. (Id.). Dr. Alford noted that effective treatment for the headaches included Maxalt and Botox injections, and that Plaintiff was being followed by Dr. Newton, a neurologist. (Id.). During the same visit, Plaintiff complained of lower back pain, “radiating to right buttock, radiating to right knee, and radiating to right foot … The pain is described as sharp and constant.” (Id.). She claimed to have had constant pain for the previous two years that had gotten progressively worse, with pain currently at ¶ 8/10. (Id.). Upon physical exam, Dr. Alford noted decreased range of motion in the neck and referred Plaintiff to physical therapy. (Tr. 253-54).

         On January 27, 2014, Plaintiff saw Dr. Newton who noted that Plaintiff “failed to follow up as scheduled” after Botox treatment was given for migraines. (Tr. 294). Plaintiff told Dr. Newton that she did not want to stay on the Botox injections and that her current medication for headaches was Maxalt as needed. (Id.). “She says [the Maxalt] works good, but still has about six headaches per month.” (Id.). Dr. Newton prescribed Topamax in addition to Maxalt to treat the migraines. (Id.). Dr. Newton wanted to see Plaintiff back in one month to find an effective dose of Topamax. (Id.).

         In February 2014, Plaintiff saw Dr. Smith at Adamsville Family Medicine to establish care as a new patient and for recheck of chronic conditions. (Tr. 297). She reported suffering from migraines, anxiety and depression, back and chest pain, and irritable bowel. (Id.). Dr. Smith described her current conditions as generally stable except for the back and chest pain. (Id.). Upon examination of Plaintiff's joints and neck, Dr. Smith noted no abnormalities. (Tr. 298).

         Sometime after February 2014, Plaintiff completed a disability report appeal form and stated that since her last report on February 26, 2014, “all of my conditions are worse.” (Tr. 219). She noted that she has “trouble walking due to back pain. I have to alternate sitting and standing. I get migraines everyday.” (Id.). She also noted that “I do not socialize often. I get migraines almost everyday and I have to stay in the bedroom in the dark, I take ...


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