United States District Court, C.D. California
ROMEO B. PADILLA, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
KENLY KIYA KATO, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Romeo B. Padilla seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner" or "Agency") denying his application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
On January 24, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB. Administrative Record ("AR") at 115-24. On March 24, 2011, the Agency denied the application. Id. at 65-67. On July 18, 2011, after reconsideration, the Agency affirmed the denial of the application. Id. at 76-79.
On August 5, 2011, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Id. at 80. On May 18, 2012, a hearing was held before ALJ Joseph P. Lisiecki III. Id. at 40-59. On July 18, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application. Id. at 22-29.
On August 14, 2012, Plaintiff asked the Agency's Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. Id. at 17-18. On March 5, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id. at 1-6. The ALJ's decision therefore became the final decision of the Commissioner. Id.
On April 23, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant action. ECF No. ("dkt.") 1. On December 17, 2014, pursuant to the Court's Case Management Order, see Dkt. 8, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS"), which the Court has taken under submission without oral argument. See Dkt. 19.
RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff was born on December 22, 1955, and his alleged disability onset date ("AOD") is December 22, 2009. AR at 28. Plaintiff alleges disability based upon: (1) right eye blindness; (2) left eye glaucoma; (3) hypertension; and (4) diabetes. Id. at 133, 337. Plaintiff was 54 years old at the time of the AOD, and 56 years old at the time of the hearing before the ALJ. Plaintiff has at least a high school education, is able to communicate in English, and last worked in 2009 as security guard. Id. at 134. Plaintiff also previously worked as a delivery driver for a courier service. Id.
A. Treating Sources
1. Dr. Francis Te
In 2007, Plaintiff began to receive treatment for hypertension and diabetes from Dr. Francis Te, an internal medicine physician at USC Internal Medicine, Inc. AR at 136-37. On December 21, 2009, Dr. Te completed a Claim for Disability Insurance Benefits Doctor's Certificate ("Doctor's Certificate") in support of Plaintiff's disability claim. Id. at 192. The Doctor's Certificate is a form issued by and submitted to the Employment Development Department ("EDD") of the State of California. Id. The form describes Plaintiff's diagnosis as "blindness... [and] retinopathy/diabetes." Id. The form also includes a single line in which to state "Findings, " in which Dr. Te wrote: "[Plaintiff] totally blind on [right] eye; [left] eye with severe glaucoma; unable to see/drive...." Id.
On March 1, 2011, Dr. Te saw Plaintiff during a follow-up appointment. Id. at 365. Reporting on the follow-up, Dr. Te noted Plaintiff continued to suffer from persistent pain and chronic blindness in his right eye and that he "really doubt[ed] [Plaintiff] could go back to work." Id. at 365-66. Dr. Te also noted Plaintiff's diabetes and hypertension were in "good control." Id. at 365. Lastly, Dr. Te reported that Plaintiff stated he could not walk around without hitting people because of his vision problems. Id.
On April 7, 2011, Dr. Te saw Plaintiff for another follow-up appointment. Id. at 362. Reporting on the follow-up, Dr. Te noted Plaintiff suffered from diabetes mellitus, retinopathy, and chronic left eye hyphema. Id. at 363.
On June 7, 2011, Dr. Te saw Plaintiff for another follow-up appointment. Id. at 359. Reporting on the follow-up, Dr. Te remarked Plaintiff suffered from right eye blindness and chronic left eye hyphema. Dr. Te also noted Plaintiff's diabetes was "well controlled" with medication. Id. at 360.
On September 7, 2011, Dr. Te saw Plaintiff for another follow-up appointment. Id. at 355. Reporting on the follow-up, Dr. Te noted that while Plaintiff had experienced several hypoglycemic episodes, Plaintiff's diabetes was in "fair control." Id. at 356. Dr. Te also stated Plaintiff's hypertension was "[w]ell-controlled" with medication. Id.
On September 26, 2011, Dr. Te completed a "Medical Statement Regarding Diabetes for Social Security Disability Claim" form. Id. at 344. In the Statement, Dr. Te marked that Plaintiff suffered from Type II diabetes and retinitis proliferans. Id. Dr. Te concluded Plaintiff was unable to work and could not lift anything on either an occasional or frequent basis. Id. Dr. Te also completed a "Medical Statement Regarding Physical Abilities and Limitations for Social Security Disability Claim" form, noting Plaintiff was blind in one eye and had reduced visual acuity in the other. Id. at 345. Dr. Te again concluded on this form that Plaintiff was unable to work. Id.
On April 16, 2012, Dr. Te completed another "Medical Statement Regarding Diabetes for Social Security Disability Claim" form. Id. at 346. Dr. Te marked that Plaintiff suffered from Type II diabetes, retinitis proliferans, neuropathy, cataracts, and nephropathy. Dr. Te concluded Plaintiff was unable to work as a result. Id. Dr. Te also completed a "Physical Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire." Id. at 347-51. In the Questionnaire, Dr. Te stated Plaintiff had poor vision and pain in his left foot. Id. at 347. Dr. Te indicated Plaintiff could sit for more than two hours at a time, but could only stand for thirty minutes at a time. Id. at 348. Dr. Te also observed that Plaintiff could only stand for less than two hours and could sit for about two hours in an eight-hour working day. Id. at 349. Dr. Te concluded that due to his impairments, Plaintiff could not lift anything in a competitive work situation and would need to be absent from work for more than four days per month if he were employed. Id.
2. Dr. Vikas Chopra
From 2008 to as late as April 20, 2012, Plaintiff also received treatment for vision-related problems at Doheny Eye Center. Id. at 137, 378. On April 20, 2012, Dr. Vikas Chopra, an ophthalmologist at Doheny Eye Center, completed a "Vision Questionnaire, " stating Plaintiff's best corrected visual acuity in his left eye was 20/25. Id. at 423. Dr. Chopra observed Plaintiff suffered from mild blurriness in his left eye and had no vision in his right eye. Id. Dr. Chopra also observed Plaintiff had no depth perception. Id. at 423-24. Lastly, Dr. Chopra noted Plaintiff did not have any extertional limitations related to his vision problems and could frequently stoop, crouch, and climb ladders. Id. at 424.
B. Plaintiff's Pre-Hearing Allegations
In a "Function Report" dated February 28, 2011, Plaintiff described his daily activities. AR at 151. Plaintiff stated he mowed his yard for thirty minutes twice a week and cleaned his garage for one hour twice a week. Id. Plaintiff stated he needed help lifting or pushing heavy objects while performing these tasks. Id. Plaintiff also stated he drove, went to a local mall, shopped in stores for medication, and watched television. Id. at 152-53. Lastly, Plaintiff claimed he could walk one mile without needing to stop and rest and could resume walking after fifteen minutes of rest. Id. at 154.
In an "Extertion Questionnaire" dated May 30, 2011, Plaintiff again described his daily activities. Id. at 166. Plaintiff claimed he climbed five flights of stairs, lifted five gallons of water four times per week, washed dishes for fifteen minutes each day, and emptied his trash for fifteen to twenty minutes each day. Id. Plaintiff also stated he could walk one mile in an hour-and-a-half. Id. at 165. Plaintiff alleged he felt dizzy, short of breath, and numb in his legs after climbing stairs and walking. Id. at 165-66. Lastly, Plaintiff claimed he carried grocery items for fifty feet two times a week and drove an automatic car as far as fifteen to twenty miles at a time. Id. at 165.
C. State Agency Medical Consultant's Opinion
On June 28, 2011, Dr. V. Phillips, a state agency medical consultant, reviewed Plaintiff's medical file and completed a "Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment." AR at 329-34. In the Assessment, Dr. Phillips concluded Plaintiff had not established that he suffered from any exertional, postural, manipulative, or communicative limitations. Id. at 330-32. Dr. Phillips noted that while Plaintiff did suffer certain visual limitations in his right eye and could not perform work requiring precise stereoscopic vision, he had 20/25 vision in his left eye. Id. at 331-32. Dr. Phillips also noted Plaintiff had indicated being able to drive and that there was no evidence Plaintiff had suffered any organ damage. Id. at 333. Hence, Dr. Phillips concluded Plaintiff's claims regarding his symptoms were only "partial[ly] credible" and diagnosed Plaintiff with diabetes mellitus and diabetic retinopathy with chronic blindness in his right eye. Id. at 329.
D. ALJ Hearing
1. Plaintiff's Testimony
At the May 18, 2012 hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff testified he could not see with his right eye, but could see and read with his left eye. AR at 44-45, 48-49. Plaintiff also testified he felt pain in his right eye during cold weather. Id. at 53. Plaintiff stated he used eye drops and medication to treat both eyes. Id. at 50, 54.
In addition, Plaintiff stated he had felt numbness in his feet for the past year and felt dizzy because of his diabetes. Id. at 46, 49, 52. Plaintiff mentioned also feeling numbness in his hands. Id. at 51.
Plaintiff testified he could not stand for longer than fifteen to twenty minutes. Id. Plaintiff also claimed he was unable to walk more than thirty minutes at a time and felt numbness in his feet when he sat down. Id. at 51-52.
Plaintiff also testified he had had diabetes for twenty-five years and had never been treated with insulin shots. Id. at 48. Plaintiff also testified his blood sugar levels were typically below 200 mg/dL every day. Id.
Plaintiff stated he had not been able to drive since 2009, because he was afraid he would get into an accident due to problems with his vision. Id. at 46. Plaintiff claimed his children had to drive him if he wished to go somewhere. Id. at 45-46.
Lastly, Plaintiff testified he usually stayed at home during the day, sitting and walking around. Id. at 52. Plaintiff claimed he did not engage ...