Muehlenkamp, Jill v. Colvin, Carolyn
ORDER reversing and remanding action to Commissioner for further proceedings RE: 10 Social Security Transcript. Signed by District Judge William M. Conley on 8/28/2015. (voc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN
OPINION & ORDER
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Jill Muehlenkamp seeks judicial review of
a final decision of defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of Social
Security, which denied her application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits
and Supplemental Security Income. On August 25, 2015, the court heard oral argument
on plaintiff’s contention that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) failed to accommodate
properly for Muehlenkamp’s migraine headaches in the residual functional capacity
While the court readily acknowledges the difficult task that
ALJs face in reviewing the large number of social security applications assigned to them
each year (not to mention many more that are remanded by courts), and commends the
ALJ in this case in particular for issuing a largely well-reasoned and thoughtful decision,
this case must nevertheless be remanded to address an apparent inconsistency between
the ALJ’s finding that Muehlenkamp suffers from severe migraines and the lack of any
accommodation for them in the RFC.
As discussed in more detail in the ALJ’s written decision and during the hearing.
Muehlenkamp asserts that she is unable to work because of multiple impairments, among
which are migraine headaches. The record contains medical treatment notes from 2010,
2011 and 2012 regarding Muehlenkamp’s repeated treatment for apparently severe
migraines. Muehlenkamp also testified at her hearing before the ALJ in January 2013
that she still suffers from migraines. (AR 61.)1
Plaintiff cites to medical treatment notes from at least thirty separate visits to her
treating physicians at which she complained about currently suffering from or having
recently suffered from migraines. (Pl.’s Opening Br. (dkt. #14) 1-8, 16-29.) These notes
reflect that Muehlenkamp reported experiencing serious migraines that: (1) lasted for
multiple days (AR 340); (2) occurred frequently over the span of several months (AR
342); (3) inhibited her appetite and ability to sleep (AR 326); (4) caused nausea and
vomiting (AR 340); and (5) made her sensitive to light and sound (AR 346). Crediting
these reports, Muehlenkamp’s physicians regularly prescribed drugs to relieve the pain
and nausea caused by her migraines. (AR 322.) The medical notes also support a finding
that Muehlenkamp’s migraines may affect her ability to maintain full-time employment.
In the ALJ’s decision, the ALJ credited Muehlenkamp’s migraines as one of several
severe impairments, writing that “[a]s of May 1, 2011, the claimant has the following
severe impairments: history of non-union of left femur fracture, osteoarthritis,
degenerative disc disease,
fibromyalgia, and polysubstance
The citations in this Order are drawn from the administrative record (“AR”). (Dkt. # 10)
dependence in reported remission.”2 (AR 835.) The ALJ nevertheless determined that
Muehlenkamp’s RFC allowed for sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a),3
with the additional limitations that her work: (1) gives her the option to sit or stand; (2)
is limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks; (3) does not involve piece work or
assembly line work; and (4) permits her to be off-task up to ten percent of the work day
in addition to her regular breaks. (AR 836.)
As plaintiff’s counsel points out, none of the RFC limitations adopted by the ALJ
appear to accommodate for the possible causes or effects of Muehlenkamp’s recurring
migraines as reflected in the record (such as her sensitivity to light and sound or the
likelihood that migraines would cause her to be absent from work), nor did the ALJ
discuss her migraines in relation to any of the RFC limitations or explain why no further
accommodations were necessary on the record before him.
Thus, the inconsistency
between the ALJ’s finding that Muehlenkamp’s migraines were a severe impairment and
the lack of any accommodation for them in the RFC requires remand.
See Moore v.
Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1127 (“It is possible to postulate which [limitations in the RFC]
were related to migraines as opposed to the other severe or non-severe impairments . . .
May 2011 is the last month for which Muehlenkamp received benefits for an earlier disability,
principally caused by a severe left femur fracture. (AR 70, 835.)
“Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or
carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as
one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying
out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other
sedentary criteria are met.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567.
but the reviewing court should not have to speculate as to the basis for the RFC
limitations.”); Irizarry v. Astrue, No. 10-cv-606-wmc, 2013 WL 4197096, at *10 (W.D.
Wis. Aug. 15, 2013) (finding that remand was appropriate in part because the ALJ found
that the claimant’s migraines were a severe impairment but did not include any
limitations associated with headaches in the RFC).
In remanding, the court acknowledges that just as with her left femur fracture, the
record may support a finding that Muehlenkamp had a history of severe migraines before
May 2011, but that the medical records suggested they were no longer sufficiently severe
to require any specific, ongoing accommodation (although the ALJ may wish to further
develop the record with respect to the severity of migraines she continued to report to
physicians after May 2011). However, this court is not allowed to guess at unarticulated
reasons that may explain gaps and apparent inconsistencies in the ALJ’s reasoning.
Furthermore, while the ALJ discussed what weight he gave to the opinions of
Muehlenkamp’s physicians who treated her migraines (among other limitations), as well
as explained why he doubted Muehlenkamp’s credibility as to her allegations about the
severity of some of her conditions (AR 838-40), the ALJ did not articulate the relevance
of those determinations in his apparent decision to the reasons why the RFC did not
include any limitations for Muehlenkamp’s migraines in particular.
explanation, the court cannot dispatch of its duty to engage in meaningful appellate
review. See Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994).
Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that the decision of defendant Carolyn W. Colvin,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, denying plaintiff’s application for disability
benefits is REVERSED AND REMANDED under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. The clerk of court is directed to
enter judgment for plaintiff and close this case.
Entered this 28th day of August, 2015.
BY THE COURT:
WILLIAM M. CONLEY
U.S. District Court Judge
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