United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
SHERRY L. SINGLETON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Sherry Singleton 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 (“Commissioner”) denying her claims for
a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Based on the court's review of the record and the
documents submitted by the parties, the court finds that the
decision of the Commissioner is due to be affirmed.
August 6, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application
for disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
and for supplemental security income (“SSI”)
under Title XVI of the Act alleging disability as of June 29,
2014. (R. 16, 56, 58, 73, 153-68). The Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) initially denied
Plaintiff's application on November 12, 2015. (R. 16, 36,
92-100). On January 14, 2015, Plaintiff filed a request for a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (R. 16, 90-91). That request was granted
(R. 103-05), and Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ
Emilie Kraft on December 7, 2016. (R. 16, 34-55, 117-22). On
January 31, 2017, the ALJ issued a partially favorable
decision, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to
March 28, 2016, but became disabled on that date and
continued to be disabled through the date of the decision.
(R. 12-33). After the Appeals Council (“AC”)
denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's
decision (R. 1-11, 151-52), the ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner, and,
therefore, a proper subject for this court's review.
Statement of Facts
application alleges disability due to a brain aneurysm. (R.
57, 204). She completed two years of college and has past
relevant work as a licensed practical nurse. (R. 52, 205,
371, 376-77). She was 44 years old at the time of the ALJ
decision. (R. 12, 38).
29, 2014, Plaintiff suffered a brain aneurysm while driving.
(R. 269). She presented to the emergency department at UAB
Hospital and was diagnosed with encephalopathy secondary to
subarachnoid hemorrhage, intraparenchymal hemorrhagic stroke,
concussion, and electrolyte imbalance. (R. 270, 272, 307).
Plaintiff was treated with endovascular coil embolization on
June 30, 2014, followed by placement of a
ventriculoperitoneal shunt to treat hydrocephalus on July 7,
2014. (R. 280, 291, 309-11, 313-18, 517). She was discharged
on July 10, 2014. (R. 332-46).
22, 2014, Plaintiff had a follow-up visit with UAB
neurologist Dr. Mark Harrigan. (R. 348). Dr. Harrigan removed
Plaintiff's staples and noted that she was doing
“quite well.” (R. 348). Plaintiff was told to
return to Dr. Harrigan in six months and was encouraged to
follow-up with her primary care physician for blood pressure
control. (R. 348).
months after the aneurysm, in August 2014, Plaintiff and her
daughter completed function reports. (R. 210-28). Both
reports indicated that Plaintiff had significant limitations
in performing activities of daily living and stated that
Plaintiff could not drive, cook, or go out alone. (R. 19-20,
211-15, 217-21, 223-24).
followed-up with Dr. Harrigan as instructed on October 14,
2014. (R. 517). Plaintiff reported having “several
spells of staring associated with some headaches, no loss of
bladder control, no evidence of generalized tonic-clonic
seizures.” (R. 517). Dr. Harrigan prescribed Plaintiff
Keppra as “empiric therapy” to “see if the
spells resolve.” (R. 517). Dr. Harrigan also ordered a
head CT scan which was “unremarkable” with
“no sign of subdural hematoma, ventriculomegaly or
other concerning findings.” (R. 518-19).
October 18, 2014, Plaintiff underwent a consultative
examination by Dr. Danielle Powell at MDSI Physician
Services. (R. 370-74). Plaintiff reported being able to
attend to her personal needs but stated that she was able to
perform very little housework or yard work due to headaches
and fatigue. (R. 370). She reported experiencing headaches,
memory loss, and fatigue since her surgery, but stated that
her treating physician advised her that it could take more
time for headaches to resolve following surgery. (R. 371).
After examination, Dr. Powell concluded that Plaintiff was
able to do the following: stand for up to four hours
secondary to fatigue; walk up to five hours secondary to
fatigue; reach overhead and forward, handling, fingering, and
feeling occasionally; climb steps and stairs occasionally;
stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl occasionally secondary to
fatigue. (R. 374). Dr. Powell concluded that Plaintiff was
unable to lift due to recent surgery, and climb ladders,
scaffolds, or ropes. (R. 374). Plaintiff was also advised to
limit travel. (Id.).
October 24, 2014, Plaintiff underwent a consultative
psychological evaluation by Dr. Sharon Waltz. (R. 376-79).
Plaintiff reported symptoms of anxiety since the aneurysm and
short-term and long-term problems with memory. (R. 377). Dr.
Waltz found that Plaintiff “has a mental impairment
present to a moderate degree. … [with] constriction of
interests and difficulties relating to others due to mental
health symptoms.” (R. 378). As to her ability to work,
Dr. Waltz concluded that Plaintiff's “ability to
understand, to carry out and to remember instructions and to
respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers and work
pressures in a work setting, despite her impairments, is
Moderately Impaired.” (R. 378). Around the same time,
state agency psychiatrist Dr. Robert Estock completed a
mental health assessment of Plaintiff, and found Plaintiff
had moderate limitations but remained capable of carrying out
short and simple instructions. (Tr. 20, 67-69).
November 2, 2014, Plaintiff was brought to the UAB emergency
department by ambulance for possible seizures. (R. 432).
Notes from the visit indicate that Plaintiff had “a
staring spell” with associated “uncontrollable
upper and lower extremity shaking” and “a right
sided throbbing headache today which she says she has had
frequently since discharge from [aneurysm] admission.”
(R. 432, 438). Medical testing revealed no acute intracranial
abnormality, stable conditioning of the shunt catheter, and
unchanged size of the ventricles. (R. 435). The seizure was
“not believed to be related to shunt” and
Plaintiff was directed to restart Keppra, the anti-seizure
drug she had been prescribed in October 2014, which she had
stopped taking due to side effects. (R. 436-37).
January 27, 2015, Plaintiff returned to Dr. Harrigan for a
routine follow-up. (R. 520). Plaintiff reported
“occasional” headaches and that she had once
again stopped taking Keppra because of dizziness as a side
effect. (R. 520). Despite discontinuing use of Keppra,
Plaintiff reported that she had not had any more spells
“concerning for possible seizure.” (R. 520). Dr.
Harrigan ordered an MRI of Plaintiff's head which
revealed “mild residual filling of the coiled ACOM
aneurysm along the base and medial margins of the aneurysm
sac. No. new intracranial aneurysm identified.” (R.
February 11, 2015, Plaintiff again went to the emergency room
at UAB due to a throbbing headache with intermittent sharp
pain lasting 3 days. (R. 448). A CT scan revealed no acute or
significant intracranial abnormality, no intracranial
hemorrhage, and a stable right front shunt catheter. (R. 453,
months later, on June 23, 2015, Plaintiff presented to Dr.
Mark Harrigan at TKC Neurosurgery due to “some trouble
with headaches and a single brief spell of blurry vision
while she was driving, no trouble with seizures.” (R.
459). Dr. Harrigan noted that “overall she is doing
quite well.” (R. 459). Dr. Harrigan noted that
Plaintiff tried Keppra but discontinued using it due to side
effects. (R. 459). A CT scan was unremarkable with no sign of
hydrocephalus and Dr. Harrigan informed Plaintiff that he did
not believe she was having shunt ...