United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Osterhout and Edward Olson, for Plaintiff.
Marentette, Assistant United States Attorney, for Defendant.
FRANKLIN L. NOEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Rebecca Ann Clark seeks judicial review of the final decision
of the Acting Commissioner (“Commissioner”) of
the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), who
denied her application for 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 filed cross motions for summary judgment.
See ECF Nos. 14 and 16. For the reasons set forth
below, the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment is
GRANTED, the Commissioner's decision is
AFFIRMED, and the case is DISMISSED
extended SSA litigation involves Clark's application for
SSA benefits that was denied on multiple occasions and levels
by the SSA, but was twice remanded by the SSA Appeals
Council. At the core of this dispute, is the disabling effect
recurring migraine headache have on Clark's ability to
secure and maintain competitive employment and the paucity of
medical records supporting Clark's allegations regarding
the limiting effects, severity, and frequency of her migraine
August 8, 2011, Clark applied for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social
Security Act, alleging an initial disability onset date of
December 24, 2007. Administrative Record [hereinafter
“AR”] 193, 418 ECF No. 13. The SSA denied
Clark's application initially and upon reconsideration.
AR 266, 276. On March 15, 2013, an initial administrative
hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), Michael Quayle. AR 99-131. On April 11,
2013, the ALJ issued a decision denying Clark's DIB
application. AR 224. Specifically, the ALJ found that Clark,
based on her age, education, work experience, and residual
functional capacity could transition to other work in the
national economy. AR 215. On July 23, 2014, the SSA Appeals
Council remanded the matter back to the ALJ, directing the
ALJ to “[g]ive further consideration to Clark's
maximum residual functional capacity and provide rational
with specific reference to evidence of record in support of
the assessed limitations” and “evaluate the
nontreating source opinion . . . and nonexamning source
opinions . . . .” AR 225. The ALJ was also directed to
“if warranted by the expanded record, obtain
supplemental evidence from a vocation expert to clarify the
effect of the assessed limitations on the claimant's
occupational base.” Id.
November 13, 2014, a second administrative hearing was held
before ALJ Quayle. AR 231. On December 4, 2014, the ALJ again
denied Clark's DIB application. AR 252. Specifically, the
ALJ again found that Clark, based on her age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity could transition
to other work in the national economy. AR 253. On April 23,
2015, the SSA Appeals Council again remanded the matter back
to the ALJ, directing the ALJ to: (1) “[g]ive further
consideration to the claimant's maximum residual
functional capacity during the entire period at issue and
provide rational with specific reference to evidence of
record in support of the assessed limitations[;]” (2)
“evaluate the treating and nontreating source
opinions[;]” and (3) “explain the weight given to
such opinions.” AR 264.
November 25, 2015, a third administrative hearing was held,
this time before ALJ Micah Pharris. AR 132-92. On December 9,
2015, the ALJ denied Clark's DIB application. AR 7-9. For
a third time, the ALJ concluded that Clark, based on her age,
education, work experience, and residual functional capacity
could transition to other work in the national economy. AR
46. On March 24, 2017, the SSA Appeals Council denied review,
finalizing the ALJ's decision for purposes of judicial
review. AR 1-6; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. On May
23, 2017, Clark commenced this action, seeking an award of
benefits, or alternatively, remand for further proceedings
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
See ECF No. 1.
was thirty-one years old at her amended alleged disability
onset date, which is defined as a younger claimant under SSA
regulations. AR 142-43; see also 418;
§ 404.1563(c). Clark claims that
the following medical conditions impair her ability to secure
and maintain competitive employment: chronic migraine
headaches, severe right shoulder/neck pain, arthritis, carpal
tunnel, and depression. AR 478. Clark has a high school
education and her past relevant work includes employment as a
cashier, insulator, expediter, and personal care attendant.
AR 639. This past relevant work is classified as unskilled
and semiskilled. Id.
testified at the November 25, 2015, administrative hearing on
her own behalf. AR 132-92. Clark was represented by her
attorney, Greg Nelson. Id. Nelson made no objection
to the admission of the exhibits into evidence, nor did he
move for the admission of evidence. AR 135- 36.
testified that she provided care for her disabled cousin for
brief and sporadic periods between 2009 and 2013. AR 149.
Clark testified that she worked at McDonald's as a
cashier in 2009 and 2010, but left the job because she
suffered severe migraines. AR 150. She testified that
fluorescent lights trigger her migraines. AR 155. Clark
testified that the she had suffered from migraines for many
years, but they started to become more intense and frequent
in 2011, when she started getting them two to three times per
week. AR 157-58. She stated that the migraines usually lasted
eight to ten hours, during which Clark would lay in bed for
relief, often without eating, and in total darkness. AR 159.
testified that she has three young children, all of which
live with her and her husband. AR 148. Clark stated that her
migraines disrupted her family life because the condition
required her children to talk very little and to keep
household noise to a minimum. Id. Clark testified
that her medication, primarily Percocet and Cyclobenzaprine,
occasionally eased her pain symptoms, but often failed to
provide any relief and caused significant side effects. AR
159-60. For example, Clark testified that the medications
have caused her to gain approximately seventy pounds because
they make her drowsy, lethargic, and inactive. AR 168. Clark
testified that she receives regular treatment for her
migraines, from her neurologist, Joseph Morley, M.D. AR 161.
Clark testified that Morley changes her medication to explore
different pain treatments. AR 162.
neutral medical expert, Joseph Horozaniecki, M.D., also
testified at the hearing. AR 169. Horozaniecki testified that
he reviewed Clark's medical record and observed that her
headache disorder was variously diagnosed as migraine,
trauma, and cervicogenic. AR 170. Horozaniecki testified that
the frequency of Clark's headache impairment is mentioned
only in Morley's SSA medical source statements, but not
in any of Clark's provider treatment notes. AR 172. He
opined that, typically, in a case allegedly dealing with
debilitating migraine headaches, he would expect to observe
the frequency of the headaches recorded in the treatment
notes; for example, medication and treatments addressing
frequency as well as pain. Id. Horozaniecki
testified that absent Morley's SSA medical source
statements, a listing level impairment is not demonstrated by
the medical evidence of record. AR 173.
further testified that fluorescent lights could be a trigger
Clark's migraines, but that a specific source was not
noted outside Morley's SSA medical source statements. AR
177. Horozaniecki testified that the frequency of the
migraines would likely need to be a point of inquiry in order
to properly administer medications and treatments. AR 178.
Horozaniecki testified that, in his experience, it is
unlikely that a patient would not report the frequency of
their severe migraines ...