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McHenry v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, St. Joseph Division

January 6, 2015

DOROTHY J. McHENRY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Dorothy J. McHenry seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's ("Commissioner") decision denying her applications for Social Security Disability Insurance under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including seizure disorder and fibromyalgia, but retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform several jobs such as an electronics sub-assembler, circuit board assembler, and packager.

Because the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

Procedural and Factual Background

A complete summary of the record is presented in the parties' briefs and repeated here only to the extent necessary. Plaintiff filed her Title II application on October 6, 2011, and her Title XVI application on October 14, 2011. Each alleges a disability onset date of June 23, 2011. After the Commissioner denied her application, Plaintiff requested an ALJ hearing. On February 19, 2013, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. The Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 9, 2014, leaving the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

Standard of Review

A federal court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough evidence that a reasonable mind would find it sufficient to support the Commissioner's decision. Id. In making this assessment, the court considers evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision, as well as evidence that supports it. McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000). The court must "defer heavily" to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice, and a decision is not outside this zone simply because the court might have decided the case differently were it the initial finder of fact. Buckner, 646 F.3d at 556.


The Commissioner of Social Security follows a five-step sequential evaluation process[1] to determine whether a claimant is disabled, that is, unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to include Plaintiff's headaches as a severe impairment at Step Two; and (2) rendering an infirm RFC for Step Four by ignoring certain evidence and by not sufficiently explaining her reasoning. These arguments are without merit.

I. Because the record does not indicate how Plaintiff's migraine headaches impaired her ability to work, the ALJ did not err in classifying them as non-severe.

The ALJ found that only Plaintiff's seizure disorder and fibromyalgia were severe impairments. R. at 17. Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred by not classifying her migraine headaches as severe impairments.

An impairment is "non-severe" if it does not "significantly limit" a claimant's mental and physical ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521(a), 416.921(a). "Severity is not an onerous requirement for the claimant to meet, but it is also not a toothless standard...." Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 708 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal citation omitted). Merely being diagnosed with a disorder does not demonstrate a significant limitation, absent some evidence to establish a functional loss resulting from that diagnosis. Trenary v. Bowen, 898 F.2d 1361, 1364 (8th Cir. 1990).

In this case, substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff was not significantly limited by her migraines. Plaintiff's headaches may have caused her pain, e.g. R. at 600-01, but Plaintiff does not explain how this pain impaired her ability to perform any basic work activity. Although she went to the emergency room for a few days once because of her headaches, R. at 639-61, she reported several other symptoms besides headaches during that visit. R. at 655. The hospital rendered several diagnoses besides recurrent migraines, such as nausea, vomiting, and seizure disorder. R. at 648. This indicates that even assuming her hospital visit limited her ability to work, it was not needed because of her headaches alone. ...

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