United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
JAIME R. EARNHART, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SIMON, JUDGE
Earnhart appeals the Social Security Administration's
decision to deny her application for Disability Insurance
Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Earnhart
alleged she is disabled due to the following conditions:
osteoarthritis in the knees, GERD, endometriosis, migraines
interstitial cystitis, as well as mental health disorders.
[A.R 79.] The main focus throughout the ALJ's
opinion and thus this opinion as well, is on Earnhart's
migraines caused by her endometriosis. The ALJ found that
Earnhart was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act and that she had the Residual Functional
Capacity (RFC) to perform a range of sedentary work with some
restrictions and could perform her past relevant work as an
electrical design engineer.
appeal, Earnhart challenges this result. Earnhart claims the
ALJ failed to account for all of her impairments as part of
the RFC and specifically, failed to account for time off task
due to her debilitating migraine headaches. She says this was
the result of the ALJ's failure to adequately consider
medical opinion evidence and migraine journals offered into
evidence. Earnhart also claims the ALJ failed to provide a
more-than-perfunctory evaluation of whether her migraine
headaches could equal listing 11.02(a) and failed to consider
an expert opinion on the subject. I agree with Earnhart that
the ALJ failed to adequately consider and address the
relevant evidence and thus failed to adequately support his
findings. Because the ALJ in this case did not adequately
consider and evaluate all of the relevant evidence, his
ultimate finding that Earnhart is not disabled cannot stand.
Accordingly, the ALJ's decision will be reversed.
Earnhart filed her initial application on December 15, 2016.
At the time of the hearing, she was 39 years old. [A.R. 31.]
She is a navy veteran, a mother of three children and had a
bachelor's degree in electrical engineering technology.
[A.R. 31-32.] She alleged disability beginning January 20,
2011. [A.R 79.] Her endometriosis caused her to have stomach
flu-like symptoms by causing scar tissue to pull on the
nerves in her abdomen which trigger migraines. She said these
migraines occur on average 10 days a month and averaging
about five hours in duration each occurrence. [A.R. 39, 41.]
Endometriosis causes her constant abdominal pain which
worsens with any kind of abdominal activity, such as walking
too much, taking too big of a step, and twisting the wrong
way. [A.R. 41.] Earnhart also has lesions on her bladder and
bowels causing damage to the lining of her bladder, diagnosed
as interstitial cystitis. This condition causes her to feel
as if she has a bladder infection and causes irritable bowel
syndrome. [A.R. 39.] Lastly, an allergy to dust also triggers
her migraines, with no treatment other than to lay down, take
medicine, and wait for it to pass. [A.R. 42.]
evaluating Earnhart's application, the ALJ engaged in the
familiar five-step process to determine disability. At step
one, the ALJ found that Earnhart did not engage in
substantial gainful activity during the period from her
alleged onset date of January 20, 2011. [A.R 12.]
two, the ALJ determined whether Earnhart had any severe
impairments which could render her disabled. The ALJ found
the following severe impairments: endometriosis, interstitial
cystitis, and migraines. [A.R 12.] Earnhart also alleged
disability based upon degenerative changes in the left knee
and degenerative joint disease of the first
metatarsophalangeal joint of the right foot. [A.R. 15-16.]
The ALJ determined that these impairments did not impose more
than minimal limitations on Earnhart's functioning and,
therefore, were nonsevere. [Id.] Lastly, Earnhart
alleged disability based on mental impairments of dysthymic
disorder, major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder.
The ALJ found that these disorders did not cause more than
minimal limitations on Earnhart's ability to perform
basic mental work activities and were, therefore, nonsevere.
In order to come to this conclusion, the ALJ went through the
four areas of mental functioning criteria. The first area is
understanding, remembering, or applying information. The ALJ
found that Earnhart had a mild limitation because she only
had problems when she was having a migraine and reported no
problems otherwise following written or spoken instructions.
[A.R 13.] The next area is interacting with others. The ALJ
found that she had a mild limitation based on feeling lonely,
lacking good friends, and conflicts with a roommate, but she
also reported participating in other social activities and
had no problem getting along with others. [Id.] The
third area is concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace.
The ALJ found that she had a mild limitation because she
reported no problems with attention or concentration
difficulties, but found pace was likely limited due to pain.
[Id.] The last functional area is adapting or
managing oneself. The ALJ found that she had a mild
limitation because she reported no problems doing normal
daily activities but had to lay down in pain a lot. [A.R
12-13.] Therefore, because the ALJ found no limitation to be
more than mild, the mental impairments were nonsevere. [A.R
on these findings, the ALJ found that Earnhart did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526.
[A.R 14.] The ALJ gave specific attention to the following
listings: 6.00 (genitourinary disorder), SSR 15-1p
(interstitial cystitis), and 11.00 (neurological disorders).
she did not meet any listing, the ALJ went on to determine
her Residual Functional Capacity to be as follows:
to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)
except she could occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She could never
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant must have
avoided unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, and
operating a motor vehicle. She could tolerate occasional
exposure to dust, odors, fumes, and other pulmonary irritants
in the work environment. The claimant could tolerate moderate
noise in the work environment.
[A.R 14-15.] In reaching this RFC determination, the ALJ
stated he considered all symptoms and analyzed the
consistency of the symptoms with the objective and opinion
evidence. Next, the ALJ evaluated the intensity, persistence,
and limiting effects of Earnhart's symptoms to determine
the extent to which they limit her functional limitations.
Apart from the objective medical evidence, the subjective
weighing of opinions came from Kathryn Nicholson, MSN, FNP
(given little weight); the Department of Veterans'
Affairs (given little weight); Joshua Eskonen, D.O., the
medical consultant at the reconsideration level (given little
weight); and Elaine Earnhart, Earnhart's daughter (given
some weight). The ALJ's written decision does not discuss
Jessica Glassman, a nurse practitioner with the VA who also
offered medical opinion testimony on Earnhart's behalf.
four, the ALJ determined that Earnhart could perform past
relevant work as an electrical design engineer based on the
hypotheticals asked by the ALJ judge to the vocational expert
(VE). The VE further testified that given the hypothetical
limitations she could hold sedentary jobs as an addresser,
document preparer and table worker/inspector. [A.R 19.] Based
on this evidence, the ALJ found Earnhart to be not disabled
and her application was denied.
in reviewing the ALJ's decision is generally deferential.
I look to determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards and whether the decision is supported by
substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Shideler v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 306, 310 (7th Cir.
2012); Castile v. Astrue, 617 F.3d 923, 926 (7th
Cir. 2010); Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462
(7th Cir. 2008). The substantial evidence standard is met
“if a reasonable person would accept it as adequate to
support the conclusion.” Young v. Barnhart,
362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ does not have to
“discuss every piece of evidence, but when the ALJ
fails to support [their] conclusions adequately, remand is
appropriate.” Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805,
811 (7th Cir. 2011). “[A]n ALJ cannot rely only on the
evidence that supports [their] opinion.” Bates v.