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Novick v. Beeryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

November 9, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Plaintiff, Karin B. Novick, appearing pro se, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her claims for period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under the provisions of Title II of the Social Security Act (Act). In this judicial review, the Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Procedural Background:

         Plaintiff protectively filed her current application for DIB on December 26, 2012, alleging an inability to work since December 21, 2007, due to celiac/gluten sensitivity, a ruptured and bulging disc in the neck, dry eyes, headaches, asthma, vocal cord dysfunction, allergies, anaphylaxis, hand eczema, malaise and chronic fatigue. (Tr. 89, 194). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff maintained insured status through December 31, 2013. (Tr. 24, 57, 201). An administrative video hearing was held on July 29, 2015, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 47-87).

         By written decision dated August 7, 2015, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr. 26). Specifically, the ALJ found that through her date last insured Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: essential hypertension, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, and neurodermatitis. However, after reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined that through the date last insured, Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 27). The ALJ found that through the date last insured, Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §404.1567(b). (Tr. 27). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that through her date last insured, Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a title researcher and an attorney. (Tr. 30-31).

         Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied that request on August 23, 2016. (Tr. 4-9). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now before the undersigned for report and recommendation. (Docs. 10, 11).

         The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs, and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         II. Evidence Presented:

         At the administrative hearing held on July 29, 2015, Plaintiff testified that she was forty-eight years of age and had earned a law degree. (Tr. 53, 80-81). Plaintiff's past work consists of work as a title searcher and an attorney. (Tr. 83).

         The pertinent medical evidence during the relevant time period reflects the following. On March 6, 2008, Plaintiff established care with Dr. Tina Hatley of The Allergy and Asthma Clinic of Northwest Arkansas. (Tr. 431, 433-450). Treatment notes indicated Plaintiff would undergo lab work.

         On March 6, 2008, Plaintiff also underwent a pulmonary function test. (Tr. 451). Plaintiff was found to have normal spirometric values.

         On April 6, 2008, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Tina Merritt of The Allergy and Asthma Clinic of Northwest Arkansas. (Tr. 432). Dr. Merritt noted Plaintiff had a history of wheat and dairy intolerance. Plaintiff reported she had been avoiding both wheat and dairy since 2006, but was still experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms. Plaintiff also reported a history of Reynaud's and eczema, as well as pain in her hands.

         On April 21, 2008, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Timothy W. Yawn for a follow-up for her hypertension. (Tr. 465-470, 479-480, 547-549). Plaintiff reported she started taking the Dyazide two weeks ago even though it was prescribed in October. Plaintiff denied headaches but reported experiencing dizziness. Upon examination, Dr. Yawn noted no abnormality of the eyes. Plaintiff had good peripheral pulses and a skin examination was normal. Plaintiff was assessed with hypertension, asthma and abdominal bloating with a positive gluten sensitivity. Dr. Yawn noted he would refer Plaintiff for a gastroenterology consult.

         On August 25, 2008, Plaintiff complained of an aggravation of eczema on her hands. (Tr. 482-487). Plaintiff was assessed with eczema with the areas of apparent neurodermatitis. Plaintiff was advised not to scratch the areas and to use ointment and Zyrtec. There was discussion that Plaintiff might undergo specialty testing.

         On January 5, 2009, Plaintiff complained of a rash on her upper extremity and hand. (Tr. 502-503). Plaintiff was noted to have a long history of what Plaintiff believed to be atopic dermatitis limited to her hands and forearms. Plaintiff thought the lesions were related to a variety of allergies. Plaintiff presented with approximately fifteen pages of hand-written notes of her medical history. Upon examination, Plaintiff's mood and affect were within normal limits without unusual depression, anxiety or agitation. The examiner opined that Plaintiff's history was most suggestive of dyshidrosis. The examiner did not think Plaintiff's symptoms were consistent with atopy, systemic allergy or contact dermatitis, including airborne. Plaintiff did not agree with the examiner. It was recommended that Plaintiff follow-up with her regular dermatologist in Arkansas.

         On May 27, 2010, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Mark F. Olsen. (Tr. 508-509, 550). Plaintiff reported that she had food allergies and had been feeling fatigued. Plaintiff also requested medication refills. After examining Plaintiff, Dr. Olsen diagnosed her with chronic abdominal pain/gas/bloating. Dr. Olsen recommended treating Plaintiff for intestinal yeast for one to two months.

         On September 24, 2010, Plaintiff called Dr. Olsen's office and reported she felt better when she was taking diflucan daily, and wanted to know if she could continue to take it daily. (Tr. 510). Plaintiff also reported that the only thing that gave her consistent energy was refined sugar or Imodium.

         On April 3, 2013, Plaintiff complained of a swollen white part of the eye in her left eye. (Tr. 513-515). Plaintiff was unsure if she should be wearing contact lenses. Dr. Eric Jerde diagnosed Plaintiff with moderate MGD; a conjunctival cyst, mild; myopia; and mild lid ptosis.

         In a letter dated April 10, 2013, Dr. Jerde stated he was sending Plaintiff to Dr. Sines office for a lid ptosis evaluation. (Tr. 511-512, 516). Dr. Jerde noted Plaintiff attributed her symptoms to her celiac disease and was somewhat convinced she may have ocular myasthenia. Dr. Jerde opined that ...

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