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Helton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville

November 14, 2018

SHERRY L. HELTON, Plaintiff,
NANCY C. BERRYHILL, Acting COMMISSIONER OF Social Security, Defendant.


          Joseph M. Hood Senior U.S. District Judge

         Plaintiff Sherry Helton brings this matter under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of an administrative decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security. The Court, having reviewed the record and the cross-motions for summary judgment filed by the parties, will AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision as no legal error occurred and the decision is supported by substantial evidence.

         I. Standard for Determining Disability

         Under the Social Security Act, a disability is defined as “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In determining disability, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) uses a five-step analysis. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). Step One considers whether the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; Step Two, whether any of the claimant's impairments are “severe”; Step Three, whether the impairments meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step Four, whether the claimant can still perform past relevant work; and, if necessary, Step Five, whether significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the Commissioner. Id.; see also Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).

         II. Procedural and Factual History

         Helton filed for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income benefits (SSI) on August 4, 2014, alleging disability as of July 3, 2014. [TR 286-94]. Helton alleged disability due to having her left kidney removed, recurring kidney stones, recurring kidney infections, irritable bowel syndrome, and high blood pressure. [TR 306].

         Helton's medical records indicate that she has suffered from headaches.[1] For instance, on October 22, 2014, Halton was treated by a physician assistant, Lora Conley, for headaches. [TR 588]. Helton's medical records report symptoms of a left parietal headache, facial pain, throbbing, and blurred vision in the left eye. [TR 581, 588]. Initially, Helton was given a Toradol (ketorolac tromethamine) injection to treat her headache. [TR 589]. At a follow-up appointment on November 11, 2014, Helton reported that the injection had helped temporarily but that the headaches had returned. [TR 581]. Additionally, Helton reported that she had suffered from intermittent headaches for fives years but that she had suffered from daily headaches for one week that had increased in intensity. [Id.]. Helton's treatment with Conley also indicate a history of diabetes. [TR 564, 581].

         Subsequent treatment records indicate that Helton was treated for headaches and symptoms associated with sinusitis. [See, e.g., TR 568-79]. On April 14, 2015, Helton was treated for headaches by Dr. Duane Densler at the Pikeville Medical Center. [TR 614-17]. Dr. Densler found no evidence of cerebellar ectopia and possible carotid siphon aneurysm. [TR 616]. Dr. Densler recommended an evaluation at the University of Kentucky or a similar medical facility so that a catheter-based angiography could be performed. [Id.]. Still, Dr. Densler reported that Helton's orientation, memory, cranial nerves, balance, coordination, and fine motor skills were all normal. [Id.].

         Subsequently, MRIs were conducted, finding a right carotid aneurysm and a neurovascular radiology consult was recommended. [Tr 620]. Additionally, medical records submitted by Dr. Mark Caruso, Helton's primary care physician, indicate a treatment history for headaches and diabetes, among other medical conditions. [TR 646-724].[2]

         On November 7, 2016, Helton was treated by an endocrinologist, Dr. Hazel Yang for type II diabetes. [TR 747-58]. Dr. Yang's treatment notes indicate that Helton had suffered from diabetes for about two years and that symptoms of excessive thirst (polydipsia), excessive urination (polyuria), and excess glucose in the blood stream (hyperglycemia) were worsening. [TR 747].

         Furthermore, Helton was treated by the UK Healthcare Neuroscience Institute for a right periophthalmic aneurysm. [TR 771-85]. Treatment records from a January 29, 2016, appointment explain that while Helton had “some subjective numbness over her distal upper and lower extremities, ” Helton had no cranial nerve deficits and good strength throughout. [TR 771].

         Helton's applications for benefits were denied initially on November 12, 2014. [TR 215-18]. Helton's applications were also denied on reconsideration on February 27, 2015. [TR 223-36]. Subsequently, Helton appeared at an administrative hearing in front of ALJ L. Raquel Bailey Smith. [TR 146-74]. Helton was represented by an attorney at the hearing.

         At the hearing, Helton reported that she stopped working due to a medical condition involving her kidney, which required surgery. [TR 154]. Helton also reported issues with uncontrolled diabetes and explained that she took prescription medications Trulicity and Humalog Mix 50-50. [TR 154-55]. Furthermore, Helton testified that she was unable to work due to numbness in her hands and pain in her legs caused by her diabetes. [TR 160]. The ALJ asked Helton, “[o]ther than [diabetes], do you believe anything else keeps you from working?” [TR 160]. Helton replied, “No.” [Id.].

         Additionally, Helton testified that she suffers from tension headaches that cause nausea. [TR 169]. Helton explained that she experienced one tension headache per week lasting approximately two hours but that she did not take any medication for her headaches. [TR 170].

         A vocational expert also testified at the hearing. The vocational expert explained that Helton had worked as a taxi driver. [Tr 171]. The ALJ posed hypotheticals to the vocational expert. [TR 171-73].

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on March 15, 2017. [TR 99-111]. The ALJ found that Helton suffered from the following severe impairments: mild osteoarthritis of the left hip, mild degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, obesity, and diabetes mellitus. [TR 101]. The ALJ found that Helton's periophthalmic aneurysm was not a severe impairment. [TR 101].

         At step four, the ALJ discussed Helton's diabetes and associated symptoms. [See TR 104-05]. Additionally, the ALJ discussed Helton's previous treatments for headaches and diabetes while reviewing the medical evidence. [TR 104-09]. Ultimately, the ALJ found that the objective medical evidence did not support Helton's assessment of the severity of her symptoms. [TR 108].

         Additionally, the ALJ found that Helton had the residual function capacity to perform light work and found that Helton could not perform past relevant work but that there were jobs that exited in significant numbers in the national economy that Helton could perform. [TR 104-10]. As a result, the ALJ found ...

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