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Banks v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 28, 2018

Cathy Adrenna Banks, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Howard D. Olinsky and Edward C. Olson for Plaintiff.

          Pamela A. Marentette, Assistant United States Attorney, for Defendant.



         Plaintiff Cathy Adrenna Banks seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner (“Commissioner”) of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), who denied her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction over the claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The parties have submitted cross motions for summary judgement. See ECF Nos. 16 and 18. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED and the case is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.


         Banks applied for disability insurance benefits on September 3, 2013, alleging disability as of February 27, 2013. Administrative Record [hereinafter “AR”] 160-61. Banks' application was denied initially on November 21, 2013, and upon reconsideration on May 13, 2014. AR 98- 102, 108-11. An administrative hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Peter Kimball on July 8, 2015. AR 39-80. The ALJ found that Banks was not disabled and denied Banks' application for disability insurance benefits on September 21, 2015. AR 9-27. On July 19, 2016, the SSA Appeals Council denied Banks' request for review and finalized the ALJ's decision for purposes of judicial review. AR 1-3; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. On September 19, 2016, Banks commenced this civil action, seeking reversal of the ALJ's decision or, in the alternative, remand for further proceedings. ECF No. 1 at 4.


         A. Medical Evidence

         Banks was fifty-one years-old on the date of her alleged disability. AR 160. Banks claims the following severe impairments prevent her from securing and maintaining competitive employment: migraines, asthma, allergies, carpal tunnel, trigger fingers, and osteoarthritis. AR 179. Banks completed two-years of post-secondary education, and her past relevant work is as a patient coordinator. AR 47.

         1. Migraines, Asthma, and Allergies

         The medical records note that Banks has a history of migraines and asthma. See, e.g., AR 442, 448, 702. On January 28, 2014, Banks visited Guarav Guliani, MD, a neurologist, about paresthesia in her right hand, headaches and stiffness in her neck. AR 448-49. At the time, Banks was taking Imitrex about once a week for bad headaches, and said the medication was helping and made things livable. Id. Dr. Guliani added amitriptyline to Banks' pain regimen, and referred Banks to physical therapy for her headache and neck pain. AR 449.

         In April of 2014, Banks reported having headaches every day to every other day, and severe headaches about three to four times a month. AR 469. During this time period, Banks missed two physical therapy appointments, which she stated were due to her short-term memory deficit. AR 581. In August of 2014, Banks reported her headaches had improved somewhat and were a quarter of what they once were. AR 615. On September 30, 2014, Banks told her physical therapist that while she continued to have headaches about every other day, they were decreasing in severity. AR 749.

         In November of 2014, Banks saw Adam Loavenbruck, MD, and informed him that her headaches were slightly improving. AR 688. Dr. Loavenbruck noted a likely driving factor behind Banks' headaches was sleep deprivation. AR 687-89.

         On September 17, 2013, Banks visited Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) for a preoperative examination. AR 297. During her medical examination, her lungs were clear to percussion and auscultation. AR 298. On July 15, 2014, Banks again visited HCMC for a physical examination. AR 647. She had no cough or shortness of breath, her breathing was normal, and she had no respiratory distress. AR 649-50.

         2. Osteoarthritis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and Trigger Fingers

         On October 22, 2013, Banks presented to Thomas A. Bergman, MD, with complaints of pain in her right (dominant) upper extremity after a fall in January of 2012. AR 400. Dr. Bergman noted that Banks had no major weakness in her hands. Id. Her left arm was assessed as normal, and her right arm showed only generalized weakness in her deltoids and triceps; a recent surgery was believed to be affecting her strength. Id.

         Banks was diagnosed with a right mild median sensory neuropathy by electromyography (EMG) on June 21, 2012. AR 263. In August of 2012, Banks underwent right carpal tunnel release surgery. AR 268. An EMG performed on August 20, 2013, revealed presence of a subacute to chronic C7-C8 radiculopathy and a mild median mononeuropathy localized to the wrist and consistent with mild carpal tunnel syndrome. AR 263-65.

         On August 19, 2013, Banks presented to Thomas F. Varecka, MD, at HCMC's Orthopedic Clinic for right carpal tunnel syndrome and trigger finger. AR 268. On examination, Banks' sensation was noted to be intact to light touch along the median, radial, and ulnar nerve distributions of the right hand, no atrophy was observed in the thenar muscles, her median nerve moto appeared to be intact, and she was able to abduct and fire the extensor pollicis longus (EPL) and flexor pollicis longus (FPL). AR 271.

         On September 9, 2013, Dr. Varecka diagnosed Banks with questionably persistent right carpal tunnel syndrome, C7-C9 radiculopathy, and right index, middle, and ring finger triggers. AR 279-80. Banks' EMG findings in regard to her carpal tunnel were not significantly different from her preoperative EMG. AR 279. An MRI of the cervical spine on September 19, 2013, showed degenerative disc disease. AR 468.

         On September 25, 2013, Dr. Varecka performed trigger finger release surgery. AR 313. On October 21, 2013, Banks reported she was doing well to Dr. Varecka. AR 392. Banks reported a bit of tenderness around the incisions and some soreness when fully extending her fingers, but otherwise no problems and an ability to fully extend all her fingers and form a full, tight fist with full flexion. Id.

         In December of 2013, Banks returned to Dr. Varecka. AR 411. Dr. Varecka observed tenderness in her right hand, with moderate weakness, and inability to hyperextend the fingers, but full active finger and elbow range of motion. Id. Dr. Varecka recommended conservative treatment with occupational therapy. Id.

         Banks began attending hand therapy in January of 2014, and physical therapy for neck pain and headache pain in February of 2014. See generally, AR 418-98. In March of 2014, Banks reported her neck was feeling “not too bad” and an improved active cervical range of motion was noted. AR 516-17. When Dr. Varecka saw Banks on March 24, 2014, a neurological examination of the right arm demonstrated motor function of 5/5 in the C5 nerve root distribution, and 4/5 in the C6-TI nerve root distribution. AR 524. Dr. Varecka noted the Banks' reported symptoms of ...

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