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N.D.N.Y. Remand for Consideration of Migraines

July 27, 2017

Attorney Michael Telfer of Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, and Anthony Baer formerly of LASNY, enjoyed a recent victory in U.S. District Court. In Dodson v. Berryhill, 2017 WL 2838167 (N.D.N.Y. June 30, 2017), Judge Lawrence Kahn found Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Arthur Patane ignored substantial evidence in determining the claimant’s migraines to be non-severe and committed legal error in demanding objective evidence for Dodson’s migraines.

Judge Kahn found the ALJ did not adequately consider claimant’s migraines in his evaluation of the claimant’s severe impairment. The ALJ ignored evidence provided by claimant’s doctors that showed the migraines caused sharp pains, confining her to her home and impacting her daily activities. Likewise, the ALJ also ignored evidence that claimant’s migraines interfered with her ability to work. One of her treating sources stated the severity of the migraines was elevated by light and noise, among other environmental factors.

The ALJ also erred by dismissing the migraines as non-severe because they were not supported by clinical testing and the treating sources relied on the claimant’s subjective statements. Judge Kahn found this “ignores the reality that migraines are not easily treated or understood by doctors.” The record even showed claimant initially rejecting injection treatment because of her fear of needles, but ultimately agreed to it because of the severity of the migraines.

A remand was ordered despite the Commissioner’s argument that the errors in evaluating the impairments were harmless. The error would have been harmless if the migraines, deemed non-severe, were considered at every step of the ALJ’s analysis. Instead, ALJ Patane did not include the impairment in his analysis, believing the migraines were “not corroborated and rarely complained of.”

Judge Kahn also took issue with the ALJ substituting his own opinion in place of claimant’s treating sources. His rejection of one of the opinions, despite the extensive treatment history Ms. Dodson had with her doctor, stemmed from the issue the ALJ had with the doctor’s reliance on Dodson’s subjective reports. Judge Kahn continued, stating “if the ALJ had questions about the limitations [claimant’s doctor] identified as resulting from [claimant’s] migraines, he should have contacted her for clarification.”

Congratulations to both attorneys for their victory and their hard work. And thanks to summer intern Spencer Stresing for his helpful summary of this case.


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