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Yarrington v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division

January 26, 2018

JENNIFER LYNN YARRINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          DOUGLAS E. MILLER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Jennifer Lynn Yarrington seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner")'s denial of her claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental Social Security income ("SSI"). Specifically, Yarrington claims that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), when determining her residual functional capacity ("RFC"), improperly weighed the opinions of Yarrington's treating physician and two state consultative experts and also erred in assessing Yarrington's credibility. Yarrington claims correcting these alleged errors could result in her being found disabled and therefore seeks remand of her claim.

         This action was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C), and Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons stated below, this report recommends that the court AFFIRM the final decision of the Commissioner by GRANTING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12) and DENYING Yarrington's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 9) and Motion for Remand (ECF No. 10).

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Yarrington filed applications for supplemental security income ("SSI") and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") in September 2012. R. at 256. She alleged a disability onset date of April 27, 2012. Id. The agency denied her application. R. at 155. It also denied her application on reconsideration. R. at 167. The Commissioner's administrative law judge held a hearing for Yarrington's claims on July 2, 2015. R. at 69-90. He held a supplemental hearing on January 21, 2016. R. at 38-49. In an opinion dated February 10, 2016, the ALJ found Yarrington was not disabled during the period of alleged disability and denied her claims for benefits. R. at 20-31. The Appeals Council denied Yarrington's request for review on February 7, 2017. R. at 1.

         Yarrington timely filed a Complaint (ECF No. 1) seeking review of the agency's decisions. She then moved for summary judgment (ECF No. 9) and remand (ECF No. 10). The Commissioner filed its cross Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12), and the matter is ripe to resolve.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Yarrington was born December 11, 1982. R. at 271. She was only 29 years old on her alleged disability onset date. See R. at 256. She completed high school. R. at 75. She had previous work as a restaurant cashier and retail sales associate. R. at 85.

         The relevant portions of Yarrington's medical history are summarized here, as are the portions of the administrative proceedings below relevant to her arguments in this court.

         a. History of Treatment and Evaluation for Migraines.

         On January 31, 2012, Yarrington sought treatment at Tidewater Physicians Multispecialty Group ("Tidewater") for constant migraines over the previous week. R. at 355. She was prescribed Tramadol for pain and advised that other medications she was taking might have "flared" her headaches. R. at 357. On May 4, 2012, she sought treatment at an emergency room for a migraine, complaining she had "sharp, severe" pain in her head and sensitivity to light and sound. R. at 422. She also complained of nausea and vomiting. Id. She was prescribed Fioricet and, by the time she was discharged, reported no pain. R. at 421, 426. During treatment in July of that year for asthma unrelated to her migraines, she reported no headache. R. at 444.

         She sought emergency room treatment for her migraines twice more in October 2012. R. at 508, 531. On the second occasion, she was prescribed Percocet for her pain. R. at 531. On October 29, 2012, Yarrington underwent a CT scan, which revealed no abnormalities. R. at 548. At Tidewater on November 12, 2012, she reported that the medications she was taking for the migraines were relieving her symptoms. R. at 686.

         On April 16, 2013, Yarrington went to the emergency room again for migraine headaches and vomiting. R. at 898. She was prescribed Vicodin and discharged. R. at 902. In August 2013, she sought treatment from Tidewater for severe migraine symptoms that were not being relieved by her medication or other treatment. R. at 706. The Tidewater doctor diagnosed her with "Common migraine with intractable migraine, so stated." R. at 708. She was prescribed Percocet and Phenergan. Id.

         On September 5, 2013, she saw Dr. Albert Francis for her migraines. She told him her medication was offering no relief. She complained of consistent pain over the past several days. The doctor also noted that she had not seen a neurologist as she had been directed to do in October 2012. R. at 821. She was continued on Fioricet and directed to follow up as needed. R. at 820.

         She returned to the emergency room on September 10 and October 22, 2013, complaining of migraine symptoms. R. at 966, 1106. On her September visit she was discharged after her headache had resolved. The attending physician noted no atypical features. He recommended symptomatic treatment and the scheduled follow up with a neurologist. R. at 969. In the records from her October treatment, Yarrington told her provider she comes to the emergency room when her migraine symptoms became severe and that "got it under control enough so she can be treated at home with her medications." R. at 1106.

         Yarrington also treated for headaches, as well as back pain and other issues with the chiropractor, Dr. Lawrence Svihla. R. at 1005-08. His letter dated October 8, 2013, summarized the history of her treatment from 2004 to 2013. Dr. Svihla concluded that she was "not disabled for her neck or back issues," suggesting she may need periodic chiropractic care as her symptoms required. R. at 1007. In an "Impairment Questionnaire" dated February 6, 2014, Dr. Svihla recorded his opinion that Yarrington's symptoms would not increase in a competitive work environment and would not render her incapable of tolerating moderate work stress. R. at 1095-97. He felt Yarrington was a malingerer. R. at 1096. He wrote, "I do not believe this patient is disabled. Working would be beneficial to this patient." R. at 1097.

         There was no documentation in the record before the ALJ that Yarrington received treatment for her migraines after October 2013.

         b. History of Mental Health Treatment and Evaluation.

         On November 21, 2011, Yarrington reported to her physician at Tidewater that her anxiety was making it "somewhat difficult to meet home, work, or social obligations" and that "[t]he symptoms are aggravated by conflict or stress at home or work," namely her mother's severe illness. R. at 363. Nonetheless, her doctor reported, "No unusual anxiety or evidence of depression." R. at 365.

         On April 17, 2012, Yarrington sought treatment for depression at Hampton Mental Health Associates ("HMHA") after the death of her mother. R. at 570-71. Yarrington reported she could clean and do laundry and that she had been dating recently. See R. at 570. She reported working as a sales associate with plans to secure a second job to change her living arrangements. R. at 571. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Linda Sabonya, recorded her status as having a depressed and anxious mood but logical, goal-directed, relevant and sequential thought processes. R. at 572. Dr. Sabonya noted Yarrington demonstrated appropriate, attentive, cooperative, and relaxed behavior but also noted Yarrington's anxiety range as "Panic." Id. The psychiatrist prescribed Lamictal, but this resulted in no reported improvement. R. at 571, 573.

         On September 17, 2012, Yarrington reported increased activity, including photography and dating. R. at 574. On November 5, 2012, she reported feeling more anxious because she felt she and a boyfriend were about to separate. In March 2013, the psychiatrist observed Yarrington had decreased dysphoria and anxiety. R. at 579. In May of that year, Yarrington told the psychiatrist her medication regimen was more effective and that she was promoting her photography business. Id. In September 2013, Yarrington reported problems with her boyfriend, including threatening and demeaning language. See R. at 817. In January 2014, Dr. Sabonya reported Yarrington was responding well to medication. R. at 1033.

         Yarrington was consistently noted to have normal attention, normal judgment; intact memory; logical thought processes; and no delusions, hallucinations, obsessions, compulsions, or thoughts of harming herself or others. See, e.g.. R. at 572 (April 2012), 1034 (January 2014), 1031 (April 2014), 1030 (June 2014), 1028 (November 2014), R. at 1065 (April 2015), R. at 1179 (December 2015). She was also consistently diagnosed with only "mild/moderate" or "moderate" anxiety and depression. See, e.g., R. at 1033 (January 2014), 1031 (April 2014), 1029 (June 2014).

         Yarrington was evaluated for disability by her treating psychiatrist, Dr. Linda Sabonya, on May 7, 2015, and again on November 16, 2015. Dr. Sabonya assessed the impact of Yarrington's mental health using the "Mental Impairment Questionnaire" created by Yarrington's attorneys. See R. at 1059-64, 1173-77. Both times, Dr. Sabonya checked boxes to opine that Yarrington's mental health condition would interfere with her ability to work one third of an eight-hour day if she were assigned to tasks concerning one-to-two step instructions. R. at 1062, 1175. She also opined that Yarrington's mental health condition would prevent her entirely from completing an eight-hour day if she were assigned to tasks requiring adherence to detailed instructions. R. at 1062, 1175. Dr. Sabonya also noted her opinion that Yarrington would have to miss work more than three times per month due to her impairments or treatment. R. at 1063, 1177. Dr. Sabonya noted, "She has a chronic illness that will have acute ...


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