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Wilgus v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 2, 2017

SHERYL MARIE WILGUS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          SUZANNE H. SEGAL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Sheryl Marie Wilgus ("Plaintiff") seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner" or "Agency") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). The parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed an application for Title II DIB on January 8, 2013. (Administrative Record ("AR") 117-20). In the application, Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of July 1, 2009. (AR 117). The Agency denied Plaintiff's application initially on May 24, 2013, and on reconsideration on September 25, 2013. (AR 83-92, 98-101) . On October 15, 2013, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 104-05). Plaintiff testified before ALJ Dale Garwal on February 12, 2015. (AR 31, 34-44) . On March 26, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff benefits. (AR 14, 24) . Plaintiff timely requested review of the ALJ's decision, which the Appeals Council denied on July 13, 2016. (AR 1-4) . Plaintiff filed the instant action on August 16, 2016.

         III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on May 27, 1961. (AR 117). Plaintiff was forty-eight years old at the time of her alleged disability onset date of July 1, 2009 (AR 117), and 53 years old at the time of her hearing before the ALJ. (AR 35). Plaintiff completed sixteen years of education, graduating from dental hygiene school in 1986. (AR 35, 154, 161) . Plaintiff worked as a dental hygienist from 1986 until 2009. (AR 154, 161). Plaintiff stopped working in June 2009. (AR 35). Plaintiff alleges disability due to migraine headaches and back pain. (AR 35, 76, 84).

         A. Treating Physician's Opinion

         From November 2009 through August 2012, Plaintiff's treating physician Kristi Wrightson, N.D., noted that Plaintiff had a history of migraine headaches. (AR 231-40 (records from 11-10-09, 5-19-10, 9-17-10, 1-19-11, 7-7-11, 11-18-11, 3-6-12, 3-20-12, and 8-29-12)) . From September 2010 through August 2012, Dr. Wrightson reported that Plaintiff's migraine headaches were without aura and without mention of intractability. (AR 232-37 (records from 9-17-10, 1-19-11, 7-7-11, 11-18-11, 3-6-12, and 8-29-12)). In 2013, Dr. Wrightson noted that Plaintiff's migraine headaches were "without aura, with intractable migraine, so stated, without mention of status migrainosus." (AR 245, 246, 250 (records from 4-15-13, 6-25-13, and 10-1-13)). In other records, Dr. Wrightson diagnosed Plaintiff with migraine headaches with aura. (AR 211 (record printed on 4-10-13 diagnosing Plaintiff with, among other conditions, "migraine with aura, with intractable migraine, so stated, without mention of status mig[rainosus]"); AR 251, 252, 261 (diagnosing same on 1-8-14, 3-6-14, and 10-16-14)).

         In a Disability Determination for Social Security Treating Physician's Migraine Headache Form dated April 15, 2013, Dr. Wrightson reported that Plaintiff has left-sided migraine headaches two times per week that last 24 hours. (AR 244). Dr. Wrightson noted that Plaintiff has the symptoms of nausea and vomiting, photophobia, phonophobia, and throbbing and pulsating. (AR 244). Dr. Wrightson reported that Plaintiff uses Imitrex and Vicodin to treat her migraine headaches and Plaintiff's response to these medications is fair. (AR 244) . Dr. Wrightson opined that Plaintiff's headaches interfered with her ability to work an average of one day per week. (AR 244).

         In a medical source statement dated February 14, 2014, Dr. Wrightson opined that Plaintiff's abilities to deal with the public, maintain concentration, and withstand the stress and pressure of an eight-hour workday are extremely limited due to her migraine headaches and anxiety. (AR 253). Dr. Wrightson also opined that Plaintiff's abilities to relate to and interact with supervisors and co-workers as well as to understand, remember, and carry out an extensive variety of technical and/or complex job instructions are moderately limited. (AR 253).

         B. Non-Examining Physicians' Opinions

         On May 21, 2013, Disability Determinations Service medical advisor Kenneth Glass, M.D., reviewed the record and opined that Plaintiff has a primary physical medically determinable impairment of migraine headaches, non-severe. (AR 80) . On September 6, 2013, Disability Determinations Service medical advisor Francis T. Greene, M.D., reviewed the record and affirmed the finding that Plaintiff's physical condition is non-severe. (AR 89, 92).

         IV. THE FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must demonstrate a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that prevents her from engaging in substantial gainful activity and that is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing 42 U.S.C. ยง 423(d)(1)(A)). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work she previously performed and incapable of performing any other substantial ...


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