United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
ROBERT J. THATCHER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
N. Bloch United States District Judge
NOW, this 29th day of March, 2017, upon
consideration of the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment, the Court, upon review of the Commissioner of
Social Security's final decision, denying Plaintiff's
claim for disability insurance benefits under Subchapter II
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et
seq., and denying Plaintiff's claim for supplemental
security income benefits under Subchapter XVI of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq., finds
that the Commissioner's findings are supported by
substantial evidence and, accordingly, affirms. See
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Jesurum v. Secretary of U.S.
Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d
Cir. 1995); Williams v. Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178,
1182 (3d Cir. 1992), cert. denied sub nom., 507 U.S.
924 (1993); Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d
Cir. 1988); see also Berry v. Sullivan, 738 F.Supp.
942, 944 (W.D. Pa. 1990) (if supported by substantial
evidence, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed,
as a federal court may neither reweigh the evidence, nor
reverse, merely because it would have decided the claim
differently) (citing Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700,
705 (3d Cir. 1981)).
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 9) is DENIED and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) is GRANTED.
 Plaintiff argues, in essence, that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) failed to
evaluate properly the evidence of record regarding
Plaintiff's migraine headaches, resulting in a residual
functional capacity assessment (“RFC”) that is
not based on substantial evidence. More specifically,
Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ improperly rejected
Plaintiff's allegations by relying on the lack of
objective findings and Plaintiff's lack of treatment.
(Doc. No. 13, at 2). The Court disagrees and finds that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings as well
as his ultimate determination of Plaintiff's
The parties in this case clearly disagree as to how to
frame Plaintiff's argument, and the Court agrees that
Plaintiff's contentions are somewhat vague and lacking in
support. Nevertheless, Plaintiff alleges generally that the
ALJ failed to account properly for his migraine symptoms
throughout his decision, “beginning at Step Two through
Step Five.” (Doc. No. 13, at 3). He commences his
argument by stating that the ALJ first failed to discuss or
consider Plaintiff's migraines at Step Two or Step Three
of the evaluative process. (Doc. No. 10, at 14). However,
Plaintiff also asserts that, in attempting to respond to
Plaintiff's brief, the government misstates his argument
“as he never argued the ALJ should have found his
migraines to be ‘severe' at Step Two.” (Doc.
No. 13, at 3). Regardless, Plaintiff concedes-and the Court
agrees-that “[w]hen a Plaintiff's claim is not
denied at Step Two, it typically does not matter whether the
ALJ correctly or incorrectly found Plaintiff's other
alleged impairments to be non-severe, so long as the ALJ
properly accounted for all impairments at Steps Four and
Five” since “an ALJ must still consider all
medical evidence contained in the record and provide adequate
explanations for disregarding or rejecting evidence.”
(Doc. No. 10, at 14). See Salles v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 229 Fed.Appx. 140, 145 n.2 (3d Cir. 2007).
As for the ALJ's analysis at Step Three, the Court
notes that, although Plaintiff appears to allege that the ALJ
erred generally in not considering his migraines at that
point in the evaluative process, Plaintiff does not indicate
that he ever contended that his migraines cause him to meet
the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, (the
“Listings”). Plaintiff also does not now actually
allege that his migraines meet the severity of a specific
Listing, nor has he met the burden of presenting medical
evidence to support such a finding. In fact, Plaintiff simply
states that the ALJ failed to consider his migraines at Step
Three, without elaborating as to exactly how he erred at that
stage of the evaluative process. Plaintiff then continues
with his argument, however, and contends in somewhat greater
detail that the ALJ failed to account for limitations caused
by Plaintiff's migraines when determining his RFC. (Doc.
Nos. 10, at 15-17; 13, at 3). Thus, the Court finds no merit
in Plaintiff's argument that the ALJ failed to consider
whether the impairments from his migraines cause him to meet
the severity of a Listing, and proceeds to address whether
the ALJ properly considered the evidence of Plaintiff's
migraines in formulating his RFC.
Plaintiff ultimately concludes-and seems to rely
mainly on the argument-that the ALJ only “cursorily
mentioned” Plaintiff's migraines in formulating his
RFC, and that he improperly rejected Plaintiff's
allegations as to the symptoms of his migraines based on a
lack of objective evidence and inaccurate assertions that
Plaintiff did not complain of or receive treatment for
migraines. (Doc. No. 10, at 15, 17). After careful
consideration of the evidence of record and the reasoning
provided by the ALJ in his decision, the Court
The Social Security regulations provide that, in
determining whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ must
consider all of a claimant's symptoms and the extent to
which the symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent
with the objective medical evidence. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1529(a), 416.929(a). A claimant's
subjective complaints of symptoms alone are not sufficient to
establish disability. See id. In evaluating a
claimant's subjective complaints, the ALJ must consider,
first, whether the claimant has a medically determinable
impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce the
symptoms he alleges. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1529(b), 416.929(b). The ALJ must then evaluate the
intensity and persistence of the claimant's alleged
symptoms to determine the extent to which those symptoms
limit his ability to work. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1529(c)(3)(i)-(vii), 416.929(c)(3)(i)-(vii)
(factors relevant to symptoms can include daily activities,
medications and medical treatment). The ALJ is given great
discretion in making credibility findings, and his
credibility finding is entitled to great deference. See
Zirnsak v. Colvin, 777 F.3d 607, 612 (3d Cir. 2014);
McGill v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 13-1309, 2014
WL 3339641, at *5 (W.D. Pa. July 8, 2014). In the ALJ's
decision here, after examining the record as a whole, the ALJ
ultimately found that the evidence simply did not fully
support the limitations that Plaintiff alleges.
When considering migraines in particular, as Plaintiff
points out, it is not appropriate to reject a claimant's
allegations based solely on the absence of objective
evidence, and courts may look at a number of factors when
evaluating the credibility of a claimant's migraine
complaints, including “whether the claimant has been
diagnosed with migraines; whether the claimant has received
treatment and medication; the length of the history of
complaints and treatment relating to migraines; the alleged
severity and frequency; the symptoms the claimant alleges the
migraines cause; and whether the record contains any
statements from doctors questioning the alleged frequency or
severity.” Kulbacki v. Colvin, No. 15-297,
2016 WL 2609984, at *6 (W.D. Pa. May 6, 2016). Upon careful
review of the record and the ALJ's decision, the Court
finds that the ALJ's consideration of the evidence
concerning Plaintiff's migraines is more than adequate in
First, the ALJ stated that when Plaintiff was admitted
to the hospital on June 16, 2011, after “syncope
problems that morning caused by the abdominal cramping and
followed by nausea and vomiting, ” he complained of a
headache “rated as eight out of ten on the pain
scale.” (R. 22, 278). The ALJ further explained that
Plaintiff refused any medications or treatment for his
problems until he was discharged from the hospital, at which
time he agreed to accept a prescription. (R. 22, 275, 278).
The ALJ also noted that, when Plaintiff began outpatient
counseling in February 2014, complaining that he was easily
overwhelmed, irritable, angry, and lost his temper, he also
explained “that he was unable to work because he passed
out, gets migraines very easily, had limited use of his right
arm and may drop a chain saw due to injury from a dog
bite.” (R. 24, 334).
Moreover, the ALJ chronicled each additional instance
in which migraines are mentioned in the medical evidence. (R.
32). First, the ALJ explained that Plaintiff's treatment
notes do in fact mention chronic migraines prior to the
alleged onset date and that a CT scan of Plaintiff's
brain at that time was unremarkable. (R. 32, 291). The ALJ
also noted that a CT scan performed during the emergency room
stay for Plaintiff's 2011 syncopal episode was similarly
normal. (R. 32, 284). The ALJ further explained that, since
the alleged onset date, migraines are included only briefly
in Plaintiff's primary care physician's records, and
he cited each individual record in which migraines were
mentioned. (R. 32). The ALJ also noted that, at one point,
Plaintiff had apparently been sent to a neurologist for a
work-up, but there is no indication in the record that
Plaintiff followed up and had any such tests performed. (R.
32, 289). Finally, the ALJ stated that Plaintiff told his new
therapist in 2013 about his migraines in conjunction with
relating his medical history. (R. 32, 334). Thus, upon
consideration of such limited evidence, the ALJ reasonably
stated that there were no other complaints of migraines in
the medical records, no evidence of any cause, and no
evidence of any particular treatment for such migraines. (R.
32). The ALJ further noted that there were no third party
statements in the record, and no state agency medical
opinions. (R. 32).
Plaintiff concedes that “there was not a vast
amount of overall medical treatment in the record, ”
but he argues somewhat vaguely that “there was
sufficient evidence that documented Plaintiff's
complaints of and treatment for migraines.” (Doc. No.
10, at 15). The Court emphasizes that the ALJ included in his
decision every time Plaintiff's migraines were mentioned
in his medical records, but there were remarkably few records
to discuss. While records from a few appointments list
migraines as a symptom or complaint-all of which were clearly
considered by the ALJ in his decision-there is no indication
in those records what, if any, treatment Plaintiff obtained
specifically for migraines at those visits. There is little
detail provided, and the records do not indicate that
medications or any other treatment was prescribed
specifically for migraines. (Doc. No. 10, at 15-16).
Moreover, the record contains no discussion or comments by
Plaintiff's medical care providers about the severity or
frequency of Plaintiff's migraines, nor are there any
medical opinions from third parties or from state agency
consultants included. Thus, there are no ...