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Pruitt v. Berryhill

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

June 20, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Leslie Pruitt brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her claim for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), based on disability. The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Doc. 21 (“In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, … order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings.”)). See also Doc. 22. Upon consideration of the administrative record, Pruitt's brief, the Commissioner's brief, and all other documents of record, it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should be affirmed.[1]


         Pruitt applied for a period of disability and DIB, under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 - 425, and for SSI, based on disability, under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383d, on April 9, 2015, alleging disability beginning on February 22, 2015. (Tr. 148-54; 157-65). Her application was denied at the initial level of administrative review on August 10, 2015. (Tr. 73-82). On September 10, 2015, Pruitt requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 85-86). After a hearing was held on February 24, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Pruitt was not under a disability from the date the application was filed through the date of the decision, April 26, 2017. (Tr.10-20). Pruitt appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, and, on January 11, 2018, the Appeals Council denied her request for review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3).

         After exhausting her administrative remedies, Pruitt sought judicial review in this Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed an answer and the social security transcript on July 3, 2018. (Docs. 9, 10). Both parties filed briefs setting forth their respective positions. (Docs. 11, 16). Oral argument was held before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on February 5, 2019. (Doc. 23). The case is now ripe for decision.


         Pruitt raises one claim of alleged error made by the ALJ: whether the ALJ erred in relying upon the Medical-Vocational Rules given the ALJ's finding that she had a severe impairment of epilepsy. (Doc. 11 at p. 2).


         Pruitt was born on May 22, 1974 and was 42 years old at the time the ALJ issued his opinion denying her benefits. (Tr. 33). Pruitt alleged disability due to asthma, grand mal seizures, heart murmur, and stomach issues. (Tr. 178). She completed the 10thgrade of school and was in special education classes. (Tr. 34, 181). She reported that her ability to read is limited. (Id.). She has never had a driver's license. (Id.). She has had past employment as a food preparer at several fast food restaurants. (Tr. 39). Pruitt lives in a mobile home with her young adult son. (Tr. 37). She can do light chores around the house, do laundry, and grocery shop. (Tr. 39-40). She can bathe, dress, and groom herself. (Tr. 39). She does not cook because the food does not smell right to her. (Tr. 40). She can pay bills, but she does not have a bank or savings account and cannot count change back very well. (Tr. 200).

         After conducting a hearing, the ALJ found that Pruitt had the following severe impairments: epilepsy, anemia, and GERD. (Tr. 15). He further determined that none of these impairments or combination of impairments met or equaled a listing. (Tr. 15-16). The ALJ assessed Pruitt's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and found that she could perform the full range of sedentary work. (Tr. 16-19). Taking into consideration her RFC, age, education, and work experience, he concluded that a finding of “not disabled” was directed by Medical Vocational Rule 201.25. (Tr. 20). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Pruitt was not entitled to benefits. (Id.).


         The ALJ made the following findings in his April 26, 2017 decision that are relevant to the claim on appeal:

The claimant also has a history of epilepsy/convulsions, but the evidence shows she has been non-compliant with treatment and medications. In March 2014, the claimant's husband reported to hospital staff that the claimant was drinking a lot, mostly liquor, and she did not take her seizure medication (Exhibit B1F, p. 39). In May 2015, the claimant presented to the emergency room following a seizure. She reportedly had diffuse shaking but no urinary incontinence or biting of the tongue. She reported that she was not following with a neurologist (Exhibit B5F, p. 5). In July 2015, the claimant told Dr. Dixon, the consultative examiner, that every time she has a seizure it is because she has run out of her medication and cannot afford prescription medications from time to time. Dr. Dixon diagnosed her with a seizure disorder with medication noncompliance (Exhibit B6F). Even the claimant's own treating physician, Dr. Louis Berec, noted at Exhibit B8F that the claimant was taking medications irregularly and was not compliant with her medications. The undersigned also notes that during an emergency room visit in July 2016, the claimant's seizures were attributed to a change in alcohol use, and she was diagnosed with alcohol abuse along and seizure disorder. She also left against medical advise [sic] prior to completion of treatment for her seizures with intravenous Dilantin (Exhibit B12F, pp. 7-8). The evidence also shows that the claimant's seizures are not that frequent. In May 2015, her seizures were reportedly stable (Exhibit B9F, p. 10). In February 2016, she reported no recent seizures and her seizures/convulsions were said to be under fair control. (Exhibit B11F, pp. 6 and 9). The next mention of seizures was in July 2016 when the seizures were said to be possibly due to change in alcohol use (Exhibit B12F, pp. 7-8). She also admitted at the February 24, 2017 hearing that her last seizure had been in July 2016, seven months earlier.
Social Security Regulations provides that, "In order to get benefits, you must follow treatment prescribed by your physician if this treatment can restore your ability to work" (20 CFR 404.1530(a). The Regulations further state that when an individual does not follow prescribed treatment without a good reason, the individual will not be found disabled. Acceptable reasons for failure to follow prescribed treatment include 1) the specific medical treatment is contrary to the established teaching and tenets of the individual's religion, 2) the prescribed treatment would be cataract surgery for one eye when there is an impairment of the other eye resulting in severe loss of vision and is not subject to improvement through treatment, 3) surgery was previously performed with unsuccessful results and the same surgery is again being recommended for the same impairment, 4) the treatment because of its magnitude (e.g., open ...

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