United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
MARILYN S. CAMPBELL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant.
DOUGLAS HARPOOL, District Judge.
Before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of her application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Plaintiff has exhausted her administrative remedies and the matter is ripe for judicial review. The Court has carefully reviewed the files and records in this case and finds the opinion of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. The decision of the Commission is AFFIRMED.
The procedural history, facts, and issues of this case are contained in the record and the parties' briefs, so they are not repeated here. To summarize, this case involves a 62-year old woman who applied for SSDI benefits due to alleged impairments including narcolepsy, asthma, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis of the knees, hip, and back. The ALJ concluded she was not disabled after determining she suffered from severe impairments including osteopenia and osteoarthritis of the knees with effusion but finding she retained a residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of light work and could therefore perform her past relevant work. Plaintiff appeals the final decision of the Commissioner arguing: (1) the ALJ erred by not considering Plaintiff's narcolepsy a severe impairment, (2) the ALJ erred in the weight accorded to the medical opinions in the record, and (3) the ALJ erred in fashioning Plaintiff's RFC.
Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to an inquiry concerning whether substantial evidence supports the findings of the Commissioner and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence and requires enough evidence to allow a reasonable person to find adequate support for the Commissioner's conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Freeman v. Apfel, 208 F.3d 687, 690 (8th Cir. 2000). This standard requires a court to consider both the evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision and the evidence that detracts from it. Finch v. Astrue, 547 F.3d 933, 935 (8th Cir. 2008). That the reviewing court would come to a different conclusion is not a sufficient basis for reversal. Wiese v. Astrue, 552 F.3d 728, 730 (8th Cir. 2009). "If, after review, we find it possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the Commissioner's findings, we must affirm the denial of benefits." Id. (quoting Mapes v. Chater, 82 F.3d 259, 262 (8th Cir. 1996)).
A. ALJ did not err in finding Plaintiff's narcolepsy a non-severe impairment.
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by finding her narcolepsy was not a severe impairment. The record shows Plaintiff was diagnosed with "narcolepsy without cataplexy" in 2011. The ALJ acknowledged Plaintiff's diagnosis but found Plaintiff's narcolepsy did not constitute a severe impairment because "the medical record suggests that her narcolepsy was effectively regulated on medication in spite for her alleged side effect" and "she has been able to physically engage in her daily activities and continues to drive[.]" Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred because the evidence shows her narcolepsy was not, in fact, effectively regulated by medication and that her "unpredictable narcolepsy spells and lack of alertness would clearly affect anybody's ability to perform a job."
"An impairment or combination of impairments is not severe if it does not significantly limit [a claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a). Where an impairment is effectively controlled by medication it "vitiates against finding that the impairment is severe." Ridenour v. Colvin, No. 3:12-CV-5109-DGK-SSA, 2014 WL 293877, at *2 (W.D. Mo. Jan. 27, 2014) (citing Martise v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 924 (8th Cir. 2011)). Additionally, "[f]ailure to follow a prescribed course of remedial treatment without good reason is grounds for denying an application for benefits." Id. (quoting Roth v. Shalala, 45 F.3d 279, 282 (8th Cir. 1995); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1530(a).
Here, the ALJ did not err in finding Plaintiff's narcolepsy was "effectively regulated on medication[.]" The record shows Plaintiff tried the prescription medication Nuvigil and that it successfully prevented Plaintiff from falling asleep during the day. Notes from Doctor Cokington indicate Plaintiff was "not as sleepy" and was "not taking naps" during the day while on the drug and Plaintiff reported that "[t]hat medicine... kept me from sleeping[.]" Although Plaintiff ceased taking Nuvigil, substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff's wakefulness problems were not significantly limiting because they were effectively controlled by medication. Brown v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 535, 540 (8th Cir. 2004) ("If an impairment can be controlled by treatment or medication, it cannot be considered disabling.").
To the extent Plaintiff argues she is significantly limited in her ability to work based on other symptoms associated with narcolepsy such as fatigue, lack of alertness, and concentration problems, the ALJ did not err in finding those impairments non-severe. Plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence to show she suffers from those symptoms and that they are limiting. The only evidence in the record suggesting the above symptoms are self-reports by Plaintiff that were discounted by the ALJ and largely contradicted by the consultative psychological examination report. Even assuming the above symptoms were shown to limit Plaintiff's mental ability to engage in basic work activities, the evidence shows Plaintiff stopped seeking treatment for such symptoms in October 2011 - just two months after she was diagnosed with narcolepsy - and that she tried only one type of medication to alleviate such symptoms. The ALJ did not err in finding Plaintiff's alleged mental impairments were non-severe in light of the medical evidence in the record and Plaintiff's failure to seek treatment to alleviate those symptoms. Whitman v. Colvin, 762 F.3d 701, 706 (8th Cir. 2014) ("While not dispositive, a failure to seek treatment may indicate the relative seriousness of a medical problem.'").
The Court further agrees with the ALJ that Plaintiff lacks good reason for her noncompliance with the prescribed course of remedial treatment for her narcolepsy. While Plaintiff claims she stopped taking Nuvigil because it was ineffective and/or accompanied by negative side effects such as fatigue and leg cramping, both Doctor Cokington and Doctor Barngrover advised Plaintiff that other medications were available to address her symptoms and improve her alleged drowsiness. The record shows, however, that Plaintiff chose not to try any other drug, she never returned for her scheduled re-evaluation with Doctor Cokington, and she is not currently taking any medication for her narcolepsy because "I can work with it at home if I need a nap, I just take a nap, and I'm fresh and ready to go[.]" Based on the foregoing, the ALJ did not err in finding Plaintiff lacked good reason to stop seeking and following the prescribed course of treatment.
In sum, substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports the ALJ's finding that Nuvigil effectively treated Plaintiff's narcolepsy symptoms and that Plaintiff had no good excuse to justify her noncompliance with the prescribed course of treatment. The ALJ did not err in determining Plaintiff's ...