United States District Court, D. Connecticut
JARON R. RUSSELL, Claimant,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Commissioner.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge
Jaron R. Russell (“Mr. Russell” or
“Claimant”) challenges the Commissioner of Social
Security's final decision to deny his application for
disability benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Mr.
Russell moves to reverse or remand the decision, arguing that
Administrative Law Judge I. K. Harrington's (the
“ALJ” or “ALJ Harrington”) findings
are not supported by substantial evidence in the Record
and/or were not rendered in accordance with law. Commissioner
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(the “Commissioner”), moves to affirm the
Commissioner's final decision. For the reasons stated
below, the Court GRANTS the Commissioner's motion to
affirm and DENIES Claimant's motion to reverse.
child, Claimant was diagnosed with epilepsy. Claimant stopped
having seizures around age eight but started experiencing
them again in March 2011. On April 7, 2014, Claimant filed
for disability benefits and supplemental security income.
Claimant is not insured under his own earnings record but
filed as the adult child of an insured wage earner. [R. 21].
His application was denied initially on April 23, 2014 and
reconsideration was denied on September 5, 2014. Claimant
thereafter requested a hearing, which ALJ Harrington held on
April 13, 2016. At the time of the ALJ's decision,
Claimant was twenty-two years old. He had completed high
school and was taking college classes part-time. [Dkt. 24-2
(Stipulation of Facts) at ¶ 1]. On July 5, 2016, ALJ
Harrington issued her decision finding Claimant is not
disabled under the Social Security Act (“SSA”)
and denying his application for benefits. Claimant initiated
this action on March 16, 2018 and moved to reverse the
Commissioner's decision on July 31, 2018. The
Commissioner subsequently moved to affirm the decision of the
accordance with the standing order on social security
appeals, the parties filed a stipulation of facts, [Dkt.
42-2], which the Court hereby incorporates in full.
had a history of epilepsy as a child. [R. 505]. After no
seizures for a number of years, on March 13, 2011, at age
seventeen, Claimant presented to the emergency room
complaining of headache, dizziness, and vomiting following a
suspected seizure. [R. 505, 825-46]. A CT scan of
Claimant's head was normal. [R. 514, 830]. Dr. Ionita
started Claimant on an anticonvulsant, Trileptal. [R. 467].
On April 14, 2011, Claimant saw a neurologist, Dr. David
Shiling, for evaluation. [R. 467, 806, 819]. Dr. Shiling
agreed with the Trileptal prescription and instructed
Claimant he should continue to avoid driving and other
dangerous activities. [R. 474]. At a follow-up visit six
weeks later, Dr. Shiling reported that the MRI and EEG of
Claimant's brain were normal. [R. 471].
presented to the emergency room on July 9, 2011 following
another seizure. [R. 501]. Claimant reported the breakthrough
seizure to Dr. Shiling at an appointment on July 13, 2011.
[R. 475]. Dr. Shiling increased Claimant's dosage of
Trileptal and referred him to Yale Epilepsy Center. [R. 478].
returned to Dr. Shiling on November 15, 2011 and reported a
nocturnal seizure the night before. [R. 479]. Claimant
reported that there were no precipitating factors, as with
his previous seizures. [R. 479]. Dr. Shiling prescribed
Keppra and recommended another appointment with the Yale
Epilepsy Center. [R. 482]. An EEG taken that day showed
“excessive slowing bilaterally with recurrent bilateral
rhythmic frontal delta occasionally associated with possible
very low amplitude or phantom spikes consistent with an
underlying primary seizure disorder and perhaps some sort of
encephalopathy.” [R. 484].
March 13, 2012, Claimant reported to Dr. Detyniecki, a Yale
physician, that he had a seizure on February 20, 2012. [R.
570]. On February 20, 2012 and March 5, 2012, Claimant's
urine toxicology screen was positive for cannabis. [R. 486,
519, 705]. Claimant was seen emergently by Dr. Detyniecki on
March 28, 2012 following a seizure while Claimant was at
school. [R. 569]. On June 19, 2012, Claimant told Dr.
Detyniecki that he continued to have breakthrough seizures
despite escalating doses of Keppra and Trileptal. [R. 565,
598]. Claimant admitted to forgetting some doses of his
medication. Claimant's mother had begun monitoring his
medication compliance. [R. 565]. As at each of the previous
visits, on examination, Claimant was cooperative, alert, and
fully oriented and he was neurologically intact with full
strength throughout and had intact sensation, normal eye
examination, and a normal gait. [R. 566, 599, 904].
saw Dr. Detyniecki again on January 27, 2013, reporting
episodes of nausea, then feeling hot and sweaty, but not
losing consciousness. [R. 561]. Dr. Detyniecki prescribed
Lamictal, another anticonvulsant, for these auras. [R. 561].
Claimant also reported having a seizure in December after
being seizure free for six months. [R. 561]. A February 7,
2012 MRI of Claimant's brain was normal. [R. 598].
was taken off of Keppra in April 2013. [R. 549]. Claimant saw
Dr. Pue Farooque at Yale New Haven Hospital for evaluation of
his seizures on April 19, 2013. [R. 545, 677]. Dr. Farooque
noted that Claimant's physical examination, MRI, and EEG
were normal. [R. 545-46, 677]. In June, Dr. Detyniecki
switched Claimant to Oxtellar and increased his dosage;
Claimant continued with Lamictal. [R. 676]. Claimant reported
that he continued to have seizures. [R. 676].
September 10, 2013, Claimant presented to the emergency room
following two seizures in the morning. [R. 487, 868-85].
Claimant had four additional seizures after an initial
emergency room visit. [R. 487, 868-85]. The attending
physician increased Claimant's Lamictal and instructed
him to continue with his other antiseizure medications. [R.
499]. Claimant's urine analysis from the visit was
positive for cannabis. [R. 537, 669, 671].
saw Dr. Detyniecki on September 23, 2013 following the
cluster of seizures earlier in the month. [R. 526]. Dr.
Detyniecki suspected that medication noncompliance was an
important factor in causing the additional seizures. [R.
528]. Claimant saw Dr. Detyniecki again on January 7, 2014
and reported a seizure in November and one a week prior to
the visit. [R. 534]. Claimant admitted to smoking marijuana.
[R. 524]. Dr. Detyniecki increased Claimant's Lamictal
dosage but his assessment noted that Claimant's seizures
“appear to be less often and milder (no sec GTC
[general tonic-clonic, or grand mal, seizures]).” [R.
525]. Claimant had another appointment with Dr. Detyniecki on
April 8, 2014. [R. 655]. Claimant reported having two
seizures on March 28 and complained of some headaches and
spitting. [R. 655]. Dr. Detyniecki noted that Claimant was
compliant with his medication regimen. [R. 655]. EEG
monitoring of Claimant in June 2014 showed two seizures. [R.
620, 638-54, 921].
connection with Claimant's disability benefits
application, Dr. Maria Lorenzo reviewed the record evidence
and her report dated April 23, 2014 opines that Claimant has
no exertional, postural, manipulative, visual, or
communicative limitations. [R. 245]. She indicated that a
residual functional capacity should reflect seizure
precautions. [R. 246]. Dr. Carl Bancoff reviewed the record
evidence in September 2014 and opined that Claimant had no
exertional limitations, but Claimant should avoid exposure to
ladders and ropes. [R. 270, 272].
October 21, 2014, Claimant saw Dr. Detyniecki and complained
of intermittent blurry vision since starting on a low dose of
Depakote. [R. 924]. On February 19, 2015, Dr. Detyniecki
increased Claimant's Depakote dosage upon Claimant's
report of a seizure the previous month. [R. 789, 927]. In
August 2015, Claimant reported having “walking
seizures” twice a month and intermittent blurry vision.
[R. 930]. Claimant's physical examination was normal. [R.
appointment with Dr. Detyniecki on January 27, 2016, Claimant
reported only one cluster of seizures since his August visit.
[R. 933]. Claimant used Ativan after the second seizure. [R.
933]. Dr. Detyniecki's assessment reported medically
refractory localization-related epilepsy (LRE) and noted that
Claimant was “[d]oing better with the increased dose of
Clobazam.” [R. 935].
Detyniecki completed a Medical Source Statement of Mental
Health on March 14, 2016. [R. 937-42]. Dr. Detyniecki
indicated moderate and extreme limitations with the ability
to understand, remember, and carry out instructions as well
as moderate limitations to the ability to interact
appropriately with supervisors, co-workers, and the public
and to respond to changes in the routine working setting. [R.
938-39]. Dr. Detyniecki stated that Claimant's epilepsy
limited his educational opportunities, social interactions,
and ability to be independent. [R. 941]. He further explained
that Claimant “has undergone numerous tests to try and
pinpoint his seizure focus in the hopes that an optimal plan
can be made to manage his seizure disorder. Despite being on
multi-modal drug therapy, [Claimant] still has seizures which
are unpredictable and totally disabling.” [R. 941]. II.
ALJ Decision ALJ Harrington rendered her decision on
July 5, 2016, denying Claimant's request for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income. [R.
11-26]. ALJ Harrington's conclusions are as follows.
Harrington first found that Claimant had not engaged in
substantial gainful employment since November 30, 2011, the
alleged onset date. [R. 21]. She next found that Claimant has
one severe impairment-epilepsy-and intermittent diplopia
(double vision), which is non-severe. [R. 21].
Harrington concluded that Claimant does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. [R.
22]. Specifically, she found that “[n]o treating or
examining physician has recorded findings equivalent in
severity to the criteria of any listed impairment, nor does