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Parlier v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

September 26, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Martin Reidinger, United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 10] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 14].


         The Plaintiff Amanda Parlier protectively filed her application for disability insurance benefits on January 4, 2012, alleging an onset date of March 1, 2009.[1] [Transcript (“T.”) 13, 152-53]. The Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. [T. 13, 66-95, 100-09]. Upon the Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held on July 15, 2014, before Administrative Law Judge Kevin F. Foley (“ALJ Foley”). On August 15, 2014, ALJ Foley issued a partially favorable decision awarding the Plaintiff benefits from October 25, 2011 through August 30, 2013, but denying benefits for the period thereafter through the date of the decision. [T. 9-24]. The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. [T. 1-6]. The Plaintiff has exhausted all available administrative remedies, and this case is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         On October 26, 2011, the Plaintiff presented to an eye specialist complaining of pain and lost vision in her right eye. She was diagnosed with optic neuritis and referred to a neurologist. [T. 216-18]. On December 1, 2011, the Plaintiff was seen by neurologist Ryan Conrad, M.D., who noted on physical examination that the Plaintiff had weakness in her legs and hips bilaterally and that she complained of weakness, numbness, pain, dizziness, fatigue, and loss of vision. Dr. Conrad preliminarily diagnosed the Plaintiff with multiple sclerosis (“MS”) but noted that such diagnosis would need to be confirmed. [T. 284-88]. A lumbar MRI performed on December 7, 2011, showed degenerative disc disease at ¶ 4-5 and L5-S1. [T. 239]. A lumbar puncture confirmed her diagnosis of MS. [T. 273]. The Plaintiff was started on medications for MS, but she continued to complain of severe fatigue, headaches, night sweats, and nausea while on medication. [T. 290].

         On June 26, 2012, Dr. Conrad noted that the Plaintiff complained of daily headaches and dizziness in addition to fatigue and worsening depression. [T. 318]. Objectively, the Plaintiff was noted to have an ataxic gait and problems with parasthesias in her legs. [T. 319]. On July 2, 2012, a residual functional capacity evaluation was performed indicating that she showed severe pain and gait deviations and fatigue when walking. [T. 328-29]. It was recommended that the Plaintiff use a cane when walking due to fatigue, weakness, and episodes of falling. [T. 329]. In 2013, the Plaintiff's gait and balance problems continued with objective signs of the inability to tandem walk, a positive Romberg test, and falling or veering to the right when standing and walking. [T. 471-504]. She also continued to have blurry vision due to optic neuritis. [T. 354-55].

         Dr. Conrad provided a medical source statement on April 22, 2013, explaining that the Plaintiff's impairment would prevent her from sitting, standing, or walking for more than two hours at a time, and that she would need to take breaks of at least 15 minutes, every half hour. He further opined that she would rarely be able to lift up to ten pounds and would miss more than four days of work per month. [T. 468-70].

         On August 30, 2013, the last date that the Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Conrad, it was noted that the Plaintiff still had showed objective signs of weakness in her legs as well as now in her arms, along with continued ataxic gait, fatigue, memory loss, depression, and parasthesias. [T. 473].

         In October 2013, the Plaintiff lost her Medicaid insurance coverage. [T. 37]. After losing her insurance, the Plaintiff was unable to continue treatment with her treating physicians. On three occasions, however, she sought emergency treatment for conditions unrelated to MS. On October 8, 2013, the Plaintiff presented to the emergency room complaining of painful itching and burning of her neck for three to four days. She stated that she thought this could have been shingles, and that the pain was as high as a 10 out of 10. [T. 515-17]. The list of problems showed the Plaintiff's MS diagnosis as “confirmed, ” but the physical examination revolved around her neck pain complaint, and there was no mention of any tests related to her MS or relevant functional capacity. [Id.].

         On February 17, 2014, the Plaintiff presented to the emergency room with abdominal pain and vomiting persisting for three days and was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection. [T. 505, 510]. The examination notes indicate that the Plaintiff reported a history of ovarian cysts, and that her mother had a history of ovarian cancer, which was her main concern. [Id.]. Dr. Matthew K. Schwarz, M.D. performed a urinalysis and a transvaginal pelvic ultrasound. [T. 511]. There was no indication that Dr. Schwarz performed any other tests that would indicate anything regarding the Plaintiff's MS. [T. 505-12].

         The Plaintiff returned for a third emergency room visit on April 8, 2014, complaining of an abscess on her face that was painful and had been present for three days. [T. 513]. She also complained of a decrease in vision in her left eye, which she explained was a symptom of her MS. [Id.]. The Plaintiff was examined by Robert Edward Driver, M.D. On examination, Dr. Driver noted that the Plaintiff had normal range of motion and strength and that she was alert and oriented with no focal neurological deficit observed as well as cooperative with appropriate mood and affect. Dr. Driver prescribed her antibiotics for the abscess and advised her to follow up in 48 hours. [T. 514].

         The Plaintiff was 30 years old at the time of the ALJ hearing in July 2014. She obtained a GED and attended one year of college. [T. 34]. She testified that she was married and had three children in the home, ages 13, 11, and 9. She last worked in October 2009. The only other earnings she had after that time was when she did some babysitting for her mother-in-law for approximately three months in 2011. [T. 35].

         The Plaintiff testified that she lost her Medicaid after her husband obtained a full-time job earning approximately $13.00 per hour. [T. 37-38, 58]. During the time period when the Plaintiff was covered by Medicaid, she was prescribed a number of medications, including Ampyra for balance and walking; Nudexta for PBA; Amantadine for symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis; as well as another prescribed drug for chronic fatigue. [T. 51]. The Plaintiff's ...

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