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Clift v. Berryhill

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

March 1, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT




         This recommended disposition has been submitted to United States District Judge Billy Roy Wilson. The parties may file specific objections to these findings and recommendations and must provide the factual or legal basis for each objection. The objections must be filed with the Clerk no later than fourteen (14) days from the date of the findings and recommendations. A copy must be served on the opposing party. The district judge, even in the absence of objections, may reject these proposed findings and recommendations in whole or in part.



         Tina D. Clift (“Plaintiff”) has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security to deny her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. (Doc. No. 3.) Both parties have submitted appeal briefs (Doc. Nos. 12-13), and the case is now ready for a decision.

         A court's function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and free of legal error. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009); Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997); see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Reynolds v. Chater, 82 F.3d 254, 257 (8th Cir. 1996). In assessing the substantiality of the evidence, courts must consider evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it; a court may not, however, reverse the Commissioner's decision merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision. Sultan v. Barnhart, 368 F.3d 857, 863 (8th Cir. 2004); Woolf v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993).

         The history of the administrative proceedings and the statement of facts relevant to this decision are contained in the respective briefs and are not in serious dispute. Therefore, they will not be repeated in this opinion except as necessary. After careful consideration of the record as a whole, I find the decision of the Commissioner should be reversed and remanded.

         Plaintiff was forty-three years old at the alleged onset date of her disability on April 7, 2013, and she was forty-seven years old at the time of the expiration of her Title II insured status on September 30, 2017. (Tr. 167.) She testified she earned a GED. (Tr. 39.) She has past relevant work as a counter clerk and delivery driver for pharmacies. (Tr. 27, 39-40.)

         The Administrative Law Judge[1] (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had a combination of “severe” impairments - namely, hypertension, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. (Tr. 18.) The ALJ found other disabling conditions alleged by Plaintiff - migraine headaches and insomnia - were not severe and would pose no more than a minimal effect on her ability to perform basic work activities. (Tr. 18-19.) The ALJ further found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or equaling an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.[2] (Tr. 20-21.)

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with specified nonexertional limitations. (Tr. 22-27.) Given this RFC, Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work. (Tr. 27.) Therefore, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert and concluded, given Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, she was capable of making a successful adjustment to other work. (Tr. 28.) Specifically, she would be able to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as kitchen helper and handpacker. (Id.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.)


         In support of her Complaint, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by discrediting the opinion of her treating doctor on the issue of her migraine headaches. (Doc. No. 12 at 11-16.) Plaintiff was under the care of Dr. Deborah Quade from 2012 through 2015. (Tr. 532-50.) On October 7, 2015, Dr. Quade completed a “Treating Physician's Migraine Headache Form, ” stating Plaintiff had migraines affecting her entire head and neck at a frequency of less than one per week with an average duration of twenty-four hours. (Tr. 529.) Dr. Quade noted Plaintiff's associated symptoms included nausea and vomiting, photophobia, and phonophobia. (Id.) She further noted Plaintiff was taking Phenergan, hydroxyzine, and Meloxicam; her response to medication was poor; and the headaches interfered with her ability to work, causing her to miss less than one day per week. (Id.) The ALJ declined to give Dr. Quade's opinion significant weight, reasoning as follows:

The undersigned gives Dr. Quade's opinion little weight, as it is quite conclusory, providing no explanation of the evidence relied on in forming her opinion. Dr. Quade apparently relied quite heavily on the subjective report of symptoms and limitations provided by the claimant, and seemed to uncritically accept as true most, if not all, of what the claimant reported. Although Dr. Quade has treated the claimant, there are no laboratory and/or diagnostic test results which she performed that demonstrate and/or support her opinion. The evidence of record does not contain a ...

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