United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY
BARBARA A. MCAULIFFE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Terina May Menges (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying her
applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
and for supplemental security income (“SSI”)
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The matter is
currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which
were submitted, without oral argument, to Magistrate Judge
Barbara A. McAuliffe.
Court finds the decision of the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) to be supported by substantial evidence
in the record as a whole and based upon proper legal
standards. Accordingly, this Court affirms the agency's
determination to deny benefits.
AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
October 4, 2012, Plaintiff filed applications for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income. AR
216-21, 222-25. Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled
due detached retina-legally blind in right eye/clinically
blind in left eye, asthma, dizziness, migraine headaches,
floating objects in eyes and blinding reflections in eyes,
hypoglycemia, sensitive skin and disoriented and combative.
AR 149, 314. Plaintiff's applications were denied
initially and on reconsideration. AR 139-42, 143-46, 149-53,
155-60. Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). ALJ Christine
Hilleren held a hearing on May 4, 2015, and issued an order
denying benefits on August 20, 2015. AR 9-22, 29-72.
Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision, which the
Appeals Council denied, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision. AR 1-5, 8. This appeal
held a hearing on May 4, 2015, in Fresno, California.
Plaintiff appeared with her attorney Jonathan Pena. Impartial
Vocational Expert (“VE”) Stephen Schmidt also
appeared. AR 31.
response to questioning from the ALJ, Plaintiff testified
that she was 45 years old and living with her 26-year-old
daughter and her grandkids. She cannot drive and lost her
license in 2006 or 2007. She now walks and does not use
public transportation. AR 37-40.
testified that she finished the 11th grade. She
worked briefly for Augies Farm Labor Services in 2009 and
2010 driving a tractor. She worked for one month in 2010, but
it was too dangerous because of her vision. AR 41-42. When
asked about her other past work, Plaintiff testified that she
worked for In-Home Support Services from 2001 to 2007 taking
care of three different clients. Her duties included changing
bandages, body rubs for circulation, cleaning, cooking and
hygiene. In that job, she lifted about 65 or 70 pounds. The
job was mostly standing. When asked why she could not work,
Plaintiff testified that she cannot see well enough and she
is scared to be around people. AR 42-44.
asked about her vision, Plaintiff testified that she still
experiences floaters and gets bright lights flashing in her
eyes. She has no vision in her right eye, and it is
completely dark. In her left eye, she sees floaters and
bright lights every once in a while. She also has headaches
every day if she keeps her eyes open very long. Plaintiff
reportedly had corrective surgery for the right eye in 2008
or 2009. After the surgery, she could see a little bit, but
went totally blind again. Between 2008 and 2012, Plaintiff
asked for a referral to an ophthalmologist, but never
received one because of an insurance issue. AR 45-49. She
does not use an assistive device, and does not need anyone to
help her walk. AR 55.
asked about her anxiety, Plaintiff testified that it has been
worsening in the last two years, which she attributes to her
inability to see. She does not like riding in cars or being
around people. She also experiences depression, feeling
hopeless and like she wants to cry. She has not had any
treatment for depression, and first felt she needed treatment
for anxiety about two months before the hearing. AR 49-52.
asked about her asthma, Plaintiff testified that she uses an
albuterol inhaler, sometimes every day, and certain kinds of
sprays bother her. If her anxiety gets bad, she will have an
asthma attack, which happened three times in the last month.
She takes Myland for anxiety, which seems to help. AR 52-54.
asked about her past drug and alcohol abuse, Plaintiff
testified that she has been sober since 2002, and last used
methamphetamine in 2002. AR 54.
asked about a typical day, Plaintiff testified that she
usually spends the day playing with her grandkids, ages 8, 4
and 2. Her daughter does not let her babysit because she
cannot see. Plaintiff tries to help with the cooking every
night. She will make her bed, but not do any other cleaning
because she cannot see well enough. She is able to shower and
dress without assistance. She will go shopping with her
daughter once a month, but cannot shop for groceries on her
own. She will walk on her own to a friend's house about
four or five blocks away. AR 55-59.
asked about her abilities, Plaintiff testified that she could
probably lift 50 pounds and possibly walk longer than six
blocks. She does not have a problem standing, but cannot sit
very long due to poor circulation. She thought she could sit
five or ten minutes. AR 59-60.
response to questions from her attorney, Plaintiff testified
that she cannot see screens, monitors or TVs. She has
astigmatism that makes the lights blur together, and she is
not able to see even if it is close. Sha also has bad depth
perception. AR 60, 63.
Plaintiff's testimony, the ALJ elicited testimony from VE
Stephen Schmidt. The VE identified Plaintiff's past work
as home attendant. AR 66-67. The ALJ also asked the VE
hypothetical questions. For the first hypothetical, the ALJ
asked the VE to assume an individual of Plaintiff's age,
education and past work. This individual had no exertional
limitations, but could not drive, and would have difficulty
reading normal-size print and working with small objects, but
would be able to read large print and work with large
objects. This individual also would need to avoid exposure to
hazards, such as unprotected heights and moving machinery,
and would need to avoid concentrated exposure to fumes,
odors, dust, gases, poor ventilation and other similar
pulmonary irritants. The VE testified that this individual
could not perform Plaintiff's past work, but there would
be other work in the national economy that the individual
could perform, such as hand packer, cleaner II, and laborer,
stores. AR 67.
second hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to assume all of
the prior limitations, but that the individual's limited
depth perception would preclude the individual from making
any accurate judgments of distance or speed, and the
individual would not be able to perform any duties requiring
reading of any kind or manipulation of a computer screen. The
individual also would be limited to simple, routine tasks
commensurate with a SVP level of 2 or less. The VE testified
that the individual could perform the previous jobs of
cleaner II and laborer, stores, but not hand packer due to
the speed and production required. However, a third position
would be packer, machine operator. The VE did not believe
there would be any erosion in numbers from the laborer,
stores or cleaner II positions. AR 67-68.
third hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to assume all the
prior limitations, but this individual would need to take a
break after every 30 minutes of work for five to ten minutes
in order to rest the eyes. The VE testified that there would
not be any other work in the national economy that the
hypothetical individual could perform. AR 68.
the ALJ's questioning, Plaintiff's counsel asked the
VE to assume an individual with the same factors as the first
hypothetical, but this individual was limited to occasional
quick near point visual refocus and occasional periphery of a
fixed point. AR 69. The VE testified that this hypothetical