Ratliff v. SSA
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: OVERRULING pla's 7 MOTION for Summary Judgment; SUSTAINING dft's 9 MOTION for Summary Judgment; a judgment in favor or dft will be entered. Signed by Judge Henry R. Wilhoit, Jr on 9/5/17.(KJR)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
Civil Action No. 16-100-HRW
DREMA FAYE MULLINS RATLIFF,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
Plaintiff has brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) to challenge a final
decision of the Defendant denying Plaintiffs application for disability insurance benefits. The
Court having reviewed the record in this case and the dispositive motions filed by the parties, and
being otherwise sufficiently advised, for the reasons set forth herein, finds that the decision of the
Administrative Law Judge is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff filed her current application for disability insurance benefits on alleging
disability beginning on January I, 2007, due to chronic migraines, degenerative disc disease,
worn cartilage in her knee, a thyroid condition as well as numbness and tingling in her hands and
feet (Tr. 145). This application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Thereafter, upon
request by Plaintiff, an administrative hearing was conducted by Administrative Law Judge
Sheila Lowther (hereinafter "AU"), wherein Plaintiff, accompanied by counsel, testified. At the
hearing, Joyce P. Forrest, a vocational expert (hereinafter "VE"), also testified.
At the hearing, pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.920, the ALJ performed the following fivestep sequential analysis in order to determine whether the Plaintiff was disabled:
Step I: If the claimant is performing substantial gainful work, he is not disabled.
Step 2: If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful work, his impairment(s) must
be severe before he can be found to be disabled based upon the requirements in 20 C.F.R.
Step 3: If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful work and has a severe
impairment (or impairments) that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period
of at least twelve months, and his impairments (or impairments) meets or medically
equals a listed impairment contained in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No.4, the
claimant is disabled without further inquiry.
Step 4: If the claimant's impairment (or impairments) does not prevent him from doing
his past relevant work, he is not disabled.
Step 5: Even ifthe claimant's impairment or impairments prevent him from performing
his past relevant work, if other work exists in significant numbers in the national
economy that accommodates his residual functional capacity and vocational factors, he is
The ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff was 35 years
at the time of the alleged onset of disability. She has completed two years of college and has
prior work experience as a dental assustant and childcare provider (Tr. 145-146).
At Step I of the sequential analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of disability through her date last insured
of December 31, 2011 (Tr. 14).
The ALJ then determined, at Step 2, that Plaintiff suffers from chronic migraines,
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, hypothyroidism and degenerative joint disease of
the right knee, which he found to be "severe" within the meaning of the Regulations (Tr. 14-15).
At Step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs impairments did not meet or medically equal any
of the listed impairments (Tr. 15-16).
The ALJ further concluded that Plaintiff could perform her past work, finding Plaintiff
not to be disabled at Step 4 of the sequential evaluation process.
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and adopted the AU's decision
as the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff thereafter filed this civil action seeking a
reversal of the Commissioner's decision. Both parties have filed Motions for Summary
Judgment and this matter is ripe for decision.
The essential issue on appeal to this Court is whether the ALI's decision is supported by
substantial evidence. "Substantial evidence" is defined as "such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion;" it is based on the record as a
whole and must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight. Garner
v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence, the reviewing Court must affirm. Kirk v. Secretary ofHealth and Human
Services, 667 F.2d 524,535 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983). "The court may
not try the case de novo nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility."
Bradley v. Secretary ofHealth and Human Services, 862 F.2d 1224, 1228 (6th Cir. 1988).
Finally, this Court must defer to the Commissioner's decision "even if there is substantial
evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion, so long as substantial
evidence supports the conclusion reached by the ALJ." Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th
Plaintiff makes one argument in support of her appeal. She contends that the ALJ did not
properly evaluate her migraine headaches in terms of frequency and severity.
A review of the AU's decision reveals that she did, in fact, consider Plaintiffs migraine
headaches and the evidence in the record pertaining to them.
Bearing in mind that the relevant period in this case is from January I, 2007, the alleged
date of onset, and December 31, 20 I I, the date last insured, the medical evidence did not
corroborate Plaintiffs claims about the severity or frequency of these migraines. There is no
mention of this condition until until October 26, 2009, nearly three years after her alleged onset
date, that Plaintiff saw her primary care doctor for complaints of worsening headaches. At that
visit, Dr. Lyons restarted Plaintiffs headache medication and advised her to return for follow-up
in one month (Tr. 376). Two days later, Plaintiff went to the emergency room because the
medications prescribed by Dr. Lyons had not helped (Tr. 247). Plaintiff received pain
medications at the emergency room and her headache improved (Tr. 248-49). Plaintiffs
discharge instructions advised her to follow up with Dr. Lyon as needed (Tr. 250).
There is no further mention of headache complaints2 until 16 months later, when she saw Dr.
Lyon in February 201 I, for rib and leg pain caused by a snowmobile accident. Plaintiff
mentioned she had daily headaches, but did not say they were debilitating or that they limited her
in any way. Dr. Lyon adjusted the dosage of her headache medication (Tr. 25 I). Plaintiff saw Dr.
Menke in the summer of 20 II, for back pain, and although her past medical history was positive
for migraines, she did not report any current problems with headaches (Tr. 232, 233 ). Plaintiff
did actually seek any further treatment for her headaches until January 2013, over a year after the
relevant period (Tr. 337).
The record does not establish migraine headaches with such severity or frequency as to
render one disabled. While it is true that Plaintiff need not visit a doctor each and every time she
suffers from a migraine, the medical evidence from the relevant time period shows that she
sought medical help for other ailments, with no complaint if debilitating migraines. The AU's
conclusion that the medical evidence did not corroborate her claims of debilitating headaches
during the relevant time was amply supported by substantial evidence. See McCormick v. Sec'y
of Health & Human Servs , 861 F.2d 998, 1003 (6th Cir. 1988) ("[ c]laimant did not introduce
objective medical evidence to support the existence or severity of the aJleged migraine
headaches," but relied solely upon her own incredible testimony to establish a disabling level of
The Court finds that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the
record. Accordingly, it is HEREBY ORDERED that the Plaintiffs Motion for Summary
Judgment be OVERRULED and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment be
SUSTAINED. A judgment in favor of the Defendant will be entered contemporaneously
This 5'h day of September, 2017.
Henrv R. Wilhoit. Jr.
United States District Judge I
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