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Ford v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

October 5, 2016

RENEE FORD PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          ORDER

         Plaintiff Renee Ford[1] (“Ford”), in her appeal of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (defendant “Colvin”) to deny her claim for Disability Insurance benefits (DIB), contends the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he (1) improperly dismissed Ford's first claim for DIB; (2) failed to find her anxiety and migraine headaches were severe impairments: (3) failed to find she met Listing 1.04A; (4) erred in determining her residual functional capacity (“RFC”); and (5) erred in assessing her credibility. The parties have ably summarized the medical records and the testimony given at the administrative hearing conducted on November 7, 2013. (Tr. 30-52). The Court has carefully reviewed the record to determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support Colvin's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). We find merit in one of the arguments[2]. Specifically, Ford is correct that the ALJ erred in failing to find her migraine headaches to be a severe impairment. The case must be remanded for further proceedings.

         Failure to find Migraine Headaches a Severe Impairment:

         At Step 2, the ALJ found Ford had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease and disorder of the left foot. The ALJ specifically cited the following medically determinable impairments and deemed them non-severe: hearing loss in the left ear, congenital heart disease, and depressive and anxiety disorders. (Tr. 17). The ALJ did not mention migraine headaches in his Step 2 analysis. Elsewhere in his Decision, the ALJ noted Ford's assertion of migraine headaches three to four times a week. (Tr. 20).

         Ford urges the ALJ should have found her migraine headaches to be a severe impairment, and she cites her testimony as well as the medical records from treating physician David Oberlander (“Oberlander”), from the Chambers Memorial Hospital Clinic (“CMHC”), and from the Dardanelle Women's Clinic to support her claim. A review of these records follows:

May 13, 2011 CMHC diagnoses Ford with headaches. (Tr. 515).
June 11, 2012 CMHC diagnoses Ford with migraine headaches. (Tr. 496).
August 10, 2012 CMHC diagnoses Ford with headaches. (Tr. 483).
December 19, 2012 Oberlander, a neurologist, describes Ford's chief complaint as “neck pain with headaches, ” noting she alleges “episodic migraine type headaches with profound irritability to bright lights and loud noises. . .” Oberlander assesses Ford to have a relevant neurological history of migraine headaches with very strong discogenic nature with severe neck pain. Oberlander prescribes Mobic, Soma, Tylenol #3, and Phenergan. (Tr. 553-555).
December 22, 2012 Ford cites the medical record from this visit to the Dardanelle Women's Clinic to support her argument, but this document is largely illegible. The report appears to document that Ford had a history of a cervical laminectomy and suffers from persistent neck pain, and that she sees Oberlander for pain management. (Tr. 564).
August 22, 2013 Oberlander sees Ford, again noting the chief complaint of neck pain with headaches and a history of migraine headaches. (Tr. 582-583).
October 30, 2013 Ford underwent left foot surgery, and her migraines were noted by the surgeon. (Tr. 635). In addition, notes from the Dardanelle Women's Clinic reflect a diagnosis of migraines on September 27 and October 25, 2013. (Tr. 632).
November 13, 2013 Ford is seen by Oberlander, who again lists her chief complaint to be neck pain and headaches, and notes her history of migraine headaches. (Tr. 641).

         A severe impairment is one that is more than slight and which affects a claimant's ability to do his or her basic work activities. Householder v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 191 (8th Cir. 1988). Ford's testimony of recent migraine headaches three to four times a week, one of which lasted two days, with vision problems and vomiting, satisfies the definition of a severe impairment, if the testimony is believed. A key feature supporting our decision is the corroborating medical notes from treating physicians establishing a longstanding diagnosis and treatment for migraine headaches.

         Colvin argues substantial evidence supports the ALJ's treatment of the migraines because Oberlander characterized Ford's headaches as “episodic, ” there was an absence of medical findings of functional limitations, and Ford never sought ...


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