United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is the Report and Recommendation
("R&R") (Doc. 13) of the Honorable Erin L.
Wiedemann, Chief United States Magistrate Judge for the
Western District of Arkansas, filed in this case on October
22, 2019. The Magistrate Judge recommends affirming the
Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision to
deny Plaintiff Crista Chua's claim for disability
insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the
Social Security Act. Ms. Chua filed objections to the R&R
(Doc. 14), and the Court has now reviewed the entire case
de novo, paying particular attention to those
findings or recommendations to which objections were made.
See 28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1)(C). For the reasons stated
herein, Ms. Chua's objections are overruled, and the
R&R is ADOPTED IN ITS ENTIRETY.
Chua filed her application for DIB on August 4, 2016,
alleging an inability to work since June 2, 2016, due to
narcolepsy with cataplexy, fibromyalgia, Hashimoto's
disease, thoracic outlet syndrome, bilateral carpal tunnel
syndrome, osteoarthritis, temporomandibular joint disorder,
patella femoral syndrome, chronic headaches, and dizziness.
Following an administrative hearing on November 15, 2017, the
ALJ determined that Ms. Chua had the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine
with radiculopathy, asthma, fibromyalgia, and depression. The
other impairments claimed by Ms. Chua were not deemed severe.
As for the severe impairments, the ALJ concluded that they
did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment
listed in the Listing of Impairments in Appendix I, Subpart
P. According to the ALJ, Ms. Chua retained the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to do sedentary work,
except that she could perform only simple tasks with simple
instructions and could have only incidental contact with the
public. With the help of Vocational Expert testimony, the ALJ
concluded that there were jobs that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy that Ms. Chua could perform,
given her functional restrictions.
Chua's objections to the R&R, the first eleven pages
are cut and pasted from her appeal brief. See Doc.
14, p. 1 ("Plaintiff re-iterates her arguments made in
Plaintiffs Appeal Brief (Doc. 11)."). None of these
arguments reference any portion of the R&R. Accordingly,
the Court will not treat them as objections that require
de novo review. See United States v. Azure,
539 F.3d 904, 909 (8th Cir. 2008) ("Matters referred to
a magistrate judge under both sections 636(b)(1) and
636(b)(3) must be reviewed de novo by the district court
when a party objects to a magistrate judge's
findings." (emphasis added)).
on page thirteen of her objections, Ms. Chua critiques
specific portions of the R&R, and these will be treated
by the Court as proper objections. First, Ms. Chua argues
that her tension headaches were improperly deemed
"non-severe" by the ALJ. Second, she objects to a
finding that she was non-compliant with her doctors'
orders. Third, she argues that the ALJ improperly viewed her
receipt of unemployment benefits as a "discrediting
factor" in her claim for disability. Fourth, she
contends that the Magistrate Judge erred in failing to
consider the opinion of Catherine Thomas, a vocational
rehabilitation counselor with Arkansas Rehabilitation
Services. Fifth, Ms. Chua disagrees with the ALJ's
finding that she was "laid off' from a recent job;
she argues instead that she left the job due to her medical
conditions. Sixth, she objects to the ALJ's decision to
discount Dr. Shannon Wipf's recommendations noted on a
"Treating Physician's Migraine Headache Form."
Seventh, Ms. Chua objects to the ALJ's rejection of Dr.
Madhu Kalyan's medical opinions noted on a "Physical
RFC Questionnaire." Relatedly, Ms. Chua argues that the
work restrictions recommended by Drs. Wipf and Kalyan should
have been credited by the ALJ in arriving at the appropriate
RFC. The Court will address these objections in turn.
substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's
finding that Ms. Chua's tension headaches do not qualify
as a severe impairment. The most recent evidence in the file
on tension headaches was submitted by Ms. Chua's family
practice physician, Dr. Wipf. She examined Ms. Chua on
November 11, 2016, and on or around the same date, she filled
out a form that Ms. Chua gave her entitled "Treating
Physician's Migraine Headache Form." (Doc. 9, p.
281). Dr. Wipf struck through the words "Migraine
Headache" on the form and wrote in the words
"Tension Headache." Id. Ms. Chua then
submitted this form in support of her application for social
security disability benefits.
Wipf's medical notes from November 11, 2016, state that
Ms. Chua experiences tension headaches that start at her neck
and spread like "a vice" on her head. Id.
at p. 503. According Ms. Chua, these headaches last up to 72
hours and occur five days per week. Id. Ms. Chua
also told Dr. Wipf that "[t]he headaches do not
interfere with her ability to work." Id. When
Dr. Wipf performed a physical examination on Ms. Chua, she
noticed tenderness "at the C-spine paraspinous muscles
and their extension to the musculature of the scalp
diffusely." Id. at p. 504. Dr. Wipf offered to
refer Ms. Chua to a neurologist to seek specialty treatment
to combat the tension headaches, but Ms. Chua refused, citing
money concerns. Id. In the end, Dr. Wipf assessed
Ms. Chua as having "[c]hronic tension-type
headache[s]" but noted that they were "not
intractable." Id. at p. 504.
ALJ remarked in his opinion, Ms. Chua's medical history
is noticeably devoid of complaints about tension headaches
after her November 2016 appointment with Dr. Wipf. For
example, Ms. Chua saw Dr. Marat Grigorov, a neurosurgeon, on
July 6, 2017, and complained of neck pain, numbness and
tingling in her hands, and fatigue in her legs. These
symptoms were all listed on Dr. Grigorov's report. He
also noted that she had "no headache." (Doc. 9, p.
555). He examined her head and observed that there was
"no tenderness or evidence of trauma." Id.
August 29, 2017, Ms. Chua again consulted with Dr. Wipf.
During that visit, Dr. Wipf made detailed notes and listed
many symptoms Ms. Chua had complained of in the past, as well
as ones she noted currently. One of the symptoms listed was a
"[t]ension-type headache." Id. at p. 564.
However, in the "Assessment/Plan" section of Dr.
Wipf's notes, the only complaints she addressed were the
following: neck pain, hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, hearing
loss, asthma, and osteoarthritis. See Id. at p. 567.
Dr. Wipf also prescribed medications for these conditions and
gave Ms. Chua specific instructions. Importantly,
"headaches" did not appear on the list.
Court agrees with the R&R that it is not credible that
Ms. Chua suffered disabling tension headaches five days per
week, to the degree that they interfered with her ability to
work, but that she failed to specifically address this
symptom and seek further treatment throughout 2017. Dr.
Wipf's treatment notes confirm that the severity of these
headaches is alleviated with certain medications, namely
Cyclobenzaprine and Ibuprofen. Also, Ms. Chua admitted to Dr.
Wipf that the headaches did not prevent her from working. For
all these reasons, substantial ...