United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch United States District Judge
NOW, this 26th day of March, 2018, 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 Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) 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. Department of Health & Human
Services, 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.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (document No. 10) is DENIED and Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment (document No. 12) is GRANTED.
 Plaintiff asserts that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in finding
him to be not disabled. Specifically, he argues that the
ALJ's findings as to his residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) are not supported by substantial evidence
because the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the impact of his
migraine headaches. The Court disagrees and finds that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.
The Court notes at the outset that the parties are
correct that, while the ALJ did not find Plaintiff's
migraines to constitute a severe impairment at Step Two of
the sequential analysis, the real issue is whether he
properly accounted for them in formulating Plaintiff's
RFC. As the parties appear to understand, the Step Two
determination as to whether Plaintiff is suffering from a
severe impairment is a threshold analysis requiring the
showing of only one severe impairment. See Bradley v.
Barnhart, 175 Fed.Appx. 87, 90 (7th Cir.
2006). In other words, as long as a claim is not denied at
Step Two, it is not generally necessary for the ALJ
specifically to have found any additional alleged impairment
to be severe. See Salles v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
229 Fed.Appx. 140, 145 n.2 (3d Cir. 2007); Lee v.
Astrue, No. 06-5167, 2007 WL 1101281, at *3 n.5 (E.D.
Pa. Apr. 12, 2007); Lyons v. Barnhart, No. 05-104,
2006 WL 1073076, at *3 (W.D. Pa. March 27, 2006). Since
Plaintiff's claim was not denied at Step Two, it does not
matter whether the ALJ correctly or incorrectly found
Plaintiff's migraines to be non-severe. Of course, even
if an impairment is non-severe, it may still affect a
claimant's RFC. In assessing a claimant's RFC, the
ALJ “must consider limitations and restrictions imposed
by all of an individual's impairments, even those that
are not ‘severe.'” SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184
(S.S.A.), at *5 (July 2, 1996). See also 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.945(a)(2). “While a ‘not severe'
impairment(s) standing alone may not significantly limit an
individual's ability to do basic work activities, it may
- when considered with limitations or restrictions due to
other impairments - be critical to the outcome of a
claim.” SSR 96-8p at *5. Accordingly, merely because
the ALJ did not find Plaintiff's migraines to be severe
does not mean that this condition could not still have
affected Plaintiff's RFC.
The RFC does not contain any limitations that appear
to be specifically related to Plaintiff's migraine
headaches. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ was wrong in so
finding, basing this claim on his contention that the ALJ
lacked a sufficient basis for finding his testimony as to the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his migraines
to lack credibility. As Plaintiff fully acknowledges, when an
ALJ has articulated reasons supporting a credibility
determination, that determination is afforded significant
deference. See Horodenski v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 215 Fed.Appx. 183, 188-89 (3d Cir. 2007);
Reefer v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 376, 380 (3d Cir.
2003). The Court finds that such deference is warranted in
It is important to remember what Plaintiff's
testimony as to the intensity, persistence, and limiting
effects of his migraines actually was. As the ALJ discussed,
Plaintiff testified that he suffers from migraines all day,
every day, at a pain level of 9-10 out of 10. (R. 20, 39). In
other words, Plaintiff testified to truly extreme symptoms
stemming from his migraine headaches. The Court agrees with
the ALJ that the objective medical evidence in the record
does not come close to supporting a claim of such truly
Indeed, the ALJ explained his rationale for this
conclusion in some detail. He properly considered that
Plaintiff's activities of daily living, which were
relatively extensive, were inconsistent with his subjective
complaints of debilitating migraine headaches all day, every
day. (R. 21). See Garrett v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 274 Fed.Appx. 159, 164 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing
Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 129-30 (3d Cir.
2002)); 20 C.F.R. § 416.929(c)(3)(i). He pointed out
that Plaintiff had indicated that his headaches had improved
shortly after he underwent surgery for the placement of a
right frontal ventricularperitoneal shunt to treat his
hydrocephalus on June 14, 2013. (R. 21, 216). He discussed
that Plaintiff had reported that his headaches improved with
Topamax. (R. 21, 55). He properly considered the impact of
Plaintiff's poor work history on his credibility. (R.
21). See Salles, 229 Fed.Appx. at 147 (citing
Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 409 (3d Cir.
1979)); Breslin v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 509
Fed.Appx. 149, 153 (3d Cir. 2013). Finally, he pointed out
that there is no support in the physicians' records to
support the level of limitation alleged. It is in regard to
this last point that Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to
acknowledge record evidence consistent with his testimony
regarding the limiting effects of his migraines. However, the
Court finds that the ALJ's finding is well supported by
The record contains no evidence that Plaintiff ever
reported symptoms at all consistent with his testimony to his
treating physicians. Not only did he largely stop complaining
of headaches shortly after his shunt was placed, he regularly
denied pain and even specifically headaches from just five
months after his surgery going forward. (R. 591, 637, 396,
439). This is in no way supportive of the extreme limitations
to which he testified. Plaintiff responds to this by pointing
out that the ALJ disregarded treatment records from after the
surgery referring to his history of migraine headaches. (R.
362, 368). However, the issue is not whether Plaintiff had
ever been diagnosed with migraines, but rather whether
additional limitations should have been included in the RFC
to account for the migraines based on Plaintiff's
subjective claims. The records to which Plaintiff cites show
no more than the fact that he reported his past medical
history to his new doctors, including his history of
migraines. They do not show any findings by these treating
physicians of migraine headaches. Indeed, Dr. Alan
Esper's records specifically demonstrate that Plaintiff
denied experiencing headaches at his February 2015
appointment. (R. 362). While Plaintiff is correct that the
ALJ did not specifically discuss this record, it actually
only further supports the ALJ's findings.
In sum, the Court finds that there was sufficient
evidence to support the ALJ's findings regarding the
veracity of Plaintiff's subjective complaints. This is
simply not a situation as in Thomas v. Colvin, No.
1:14-cv-00274, 2015 WL 4067147 (W.D. Pa. July 2, 2015), where
the ALJ discounted the claimant's subjective claims
regarding his migraine headaches solely based on the absence
of objective medical evidence. Rather, as discussed above,
the ALJ relied on a variety of factors that are ...