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Chad Miller v. Michael J. Astrue

January 24, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge



Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying his applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Sheila K. Oberto, United States Magistrate Judge.*fn1


Plaintiff was born in 1972, has an eleventh-grade education, and previously worked as a carpenter and truck driver. (Administrative Record ("AR") 14, 21, 87.) On November 21, 2006, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning on May 23, 2006, due to diabetic neuropathy, retinopathy, gastroparesis, arthritis, and vision problems. (AR 9, 63, 87-98.)

A. Medical Evidence

Perry Haugen, M.D., an ophthalmologist, noted that, as of September 12, 2006, Plaintiff's corrected visual acuity was 20/100 in the right eye and 20/50 in the left eye with pinhole occlusion. (AR 166.)

On February 5, 2007, Philip Seu, M.D., performed a consultative examination of Plaintiff. (AR 187-90.) Dr. Seu noted that at home Plaintiff performed light housework and walked on a treadmill for exercise. (AR 187.) Plaintiff's vision without lenses was 20/200 in the right eye and 20/70 in the left eye; with pinhole occlusion, Plaintiff's vision was 20/200 in the right eye and 20/50 in the left eye. (AR 188.)

Because of Plaintiff's diabetic neuropathy, Dr. Seu opined that in an eight-hour workday Plaintiff could sit without limitation and could stand or walk for six hours with hourly breaks. (AR 189.) Plaintiff could lift and carry without limitation and had no postural limitations on bending, stooping, or crouching. (AR 190.) Plaintiff had no manipulative limitations on reaching, handling, feeling, grasping, and fingering. (AR 190.) Dr. Seu also opined that "[t]here are potential visual limitations in that [Plaintiff] has extremely poor vision in one eye. In addition, with the neuropathy involving his feet he should avoid climbing and unprotected heights." (AR 190.)

On March 6, 2007, Roger Fast, M.D., a state agency physician, assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity ("RFC"). (AR 196-200.) Dr. Fast opined that Plaintiff could (1) occasionally lift and/or carry 100 pounds or more and frequently 50 pounds or more; (2) stand and/or walk for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; (3) sit for about six hours in an eight-hour workday; and (4) perform unlimited pushing and/or pulling with the upper extremities.

(AR 197.) Plaintiff's retinopathy limited his near and far visual acuity so that he was to avoid jobs requiring fine visual discrimination, and he was to avoid concentrated exposure to vibration because of sensory neuropathy in his feet. (AR 198, 199.) Finally, Plaintiff had no postural, manipulative, or communicative limitations. (AR 197-99.)

On March 27, 2007, Dr. Haugen noted that Plaintiff's uncorrected vision in the right eye was 20/400 and 20/200 in the left eye. (AR 222, 317.) Plaintiff's corrected pinhole vision in his left eye was 20/100. (AR 222, 317.)

On May 29, 2007, Dr. Reed completed a form entitled "Special Sense Organs -- Eye," on which he indicated a diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy in both eyes, which was stable. (AR 224.) Dr. Reed indicated that Plaintiff's "[v]isual acuity with best correction" on March 27, 2007, was 20/400 in Plaintiff's right eye and 20/200 in Plaintiff's left eye. (AR 224.) Dr. Reed indicated a response of "NA," however, to the following question on the form: "If the vision in the better eye with correction is 20/200 or less, or if the better eye has a limitation in the field of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees, at what date was the condition noted to be that severe?" (AR 224.)

On February 7, 2008, Dr. Haugen completed a form on which he assessed Plaintiff's physical ability to do work-related activities. (AR 321-25.) Dr. Haugen opined that Plaintiff was to avoid moderate exposure to heights and moving machinery. (AR 324.) Dr. Haugen stated on the form that Plaintiff "is currently legally blind." (AR 325.)

B. Administrative Hearing

The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and again on reconsideration; consequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 56-59, 63-67, 71-77.) On February 11, 2008, ALJ Daniel G. Heely held a hearing in which Plaintiff, Plaintiff's girlfriend, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. (AR 17-55.)

1. Plaintiff's Testimony

Plaintiff stated on a function report completed on January 2, 2007, that he performed light household chores, but he did not see well enough to drive, work, or shop. (AR 125-26.) At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that he lived with his stepfather and girlfriend, and he last drove a vehicle in May 2006. (AR 21, 22.) He stopped working in May 2006 because of foot pain and problems with his stomach and vision. (AR 23-25.) Plaintiff was now only able to see big objects and could not discern any detail while watching television. (AR 26.) He rarely went outside because he feared "stepping on nails" and that he would "run into things, just not noticing that they're there." (AR 29.)

Plaintiff used insulin to treat his diabetes, which was first diagnosed in April of 1982 and had worsened. (AR 27, 34.) He helped to care for a dog. (AR 28-29.) Plaintiff occasionally dined out with friends. (AR 30, 37.) He traveled with his girlfriend to Riverside, California, every three months to visit his seven-year-old son. (AR 30-31.) Plaintiff had also traveled to Fontana, California, to watch a NASCAR race. (AR 31-33.)

According to Plaintiff, his diabetes caused him to suffer from leg cramps and foot pain. (AR 35.) He could only walk for a half hour before needing to sit down and can only sit for an hour and a half before needing to move around. (AR 35, 38.) Plaintiff could not return to his past work as a truck driver because of numbness from below the waist due to diabetes. (AR 39-40.)

2. Plaintiff's Girlfriend's Testimony

Plaintiff's girlfriend testified that she helped Plaintiff with his daily activities such as grooming, driving, sorting and doing his laundry, and assisted him with some of his medications. (AR 41.) Plaintiff took his medications during the day and would need assistance in doing so. (AR 42.) Plaintiff's blood sugar levels varied depending on his activity level, and he would need assistance in monitoring his blood sugar level and adjusting his medication accordingly. (AR 42-43.) Plaintiff would not be able to perform any type of work because of his vision problems. (AR 45.)

3. VE Testimony

A VE testified that Plaintiff's past work as a carpenter as he performed it was very heavy*fn2 and skilled, and Plaintiff's past work as a truck driver was medium*fn3 and semiskilled. (AR 49.) A hypothetical person with the same age, education, and past relevant work history as Plaintiff could not perform Plaintiff's past relevant work or any other work in the economy if that person (1) could sit, stand, and walk for six hours out of eight hours each in a workday with normal breaks; (2) did not have any lifting or carrying limitations; and (3) could frequently climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; but (4) could never work around moving dangerous machinery or unprotected heights; (5) could never work at jobs requiring near or far visual acuity; and (6) had no peripheral vision or depth perception and could not distinguish sizes and shapes of items more than six inches away. (AR 50.)

A second hypothetical person with Plaintiff's age, education, and past relevant work history could not perform Plaintiff's past work if such a person (1) could sit, stand, and walk for six hours out of eight hours each in a workday with normal breaks; (2) could lift and/or carry a maximum of 50 pounds frequently and 100 pounds occasionally; and (3) could work at jobs involving simple, routine tasks; but (4) could not work at jobs requiring fine visual discrimination; (5) had to avoid concentrated exposure to vibrations, moving dangerous machinery, and unprotected heights; and (6) could not operate motor vehicles. (AR 51.) Such a person could work, however, as a housekeeper, hand packager, and kitchen helper. (AR 51-52.) A person with vision problems so that ...

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