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Allen M. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

August 13, 2018

ALLEN M.,[1] Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ROBERT S. BALLOU UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Allen M. (“Allen”) filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) determining that he was not disabled and therefore not eligible for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. Specifically, Allen alleges that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) failed to properly evaluate his visual limitations and erred in giving less weight to the opinion of the consultative examiner. I conclude that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision on all grounds. Accordingly, I RECOMMEND DENYING Allen's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 12), and GRANTING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 14).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's conclusion that Allen failed to demonstrate that he was disabled under the Act.[2] Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal citations omitted). The final decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed where substantial evidence supports the decision. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).

         CLAIM HISTORY

         Allen protectively filed for DIB on May 10, 2013, claiming that his disability began on December 4, 2012.[3] R. 212. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial and reconsideration levels. R. 85, 101. On May 18, 2016, ALJ Thomas W. Erwin held an administrative hearing to consider Allen's disability claim. R. 32-63. Allen was represented by an attorney at the hearing, which included testimony from Allen and vocational expert Mark Hileman. Id.

         On June 7, 2016, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Allen's claim under the familiar five-step process, [4] and denying Allen's claim for disability. R. 11-26. The ALJ found that Allen suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis of the left shoulder, obesity, diabetes mellitus with peripheral neuropathy, and the presence of a foreign metallic object in his right foot with a heel spur. R. 13. The ALJ determined that Allen retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of light work and that he (1) can lift and carry 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; (2) can stand and walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for two hours in an eight-hour workday; (3) can occasionally reach overhead with his left upper extremity, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs; (4) can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and (5) “must avoid more than occasional exposure to vibration, operational control of moving machinery, unprotected heights, and hazardous machinery. R. 16. The ALJ determined that while Allen cannot return to his old job as a garbage collector, he can work jobs that exist in substantial numbers in the national economy such as cashier II, checker, and laundry folder. R. 24-25. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Allen was not disabled. R. 26.

         Allen appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, but his request for review was denied. R. 1-3. This appeal followed.

         ANALYSIS

         Allen contends that the ALJ erred by finding that his visual limitations were non-severe and by giving less weight to the opinion of the consultative examiner.

         Visual Impairments

         Allen has a history of diabetic retinopathy. In July 2013, Allen's family physician, Lewis J. Singer, M.D., referred him to John C. Randolph, M.D., at the Vistar Eye Center. R. 466. On August 2, 2013, Allen reported blurry vision, distorted faces on television screens, and visual acuity affected at all distances. R. 546. Dr. Randolph conducted a visual acuity examination and found Allen's right eye vision to be 20/100-1 and left eye vision to be 20/30. R. 547. Dr. Randolph diagnosed clinically significant diabetic macular edema (“CSDME”), diabetic retinopathy, and diabetes with ophthalmic manifestations. R. 549. Dr. Randolph administered Avastin injections for Allen's CSDME in his right eye, explained that laser treatment may be necessary for his left eye, and counseled him to monitor his blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Id. Allen followed up with Dr. Randolph on August 8, 2013, reporting stable vision that is still blurry in his right eye. R. 539. An eye examination showed 20/70 right eye vision and 20/30 left eye vision. R. 540. Dr. Randolph performed a grid laser procedure on Allen's right eye, and counseled him to monitor his blood pressure and blood sugar levels. R. 542. Allen returned to Dr. Randolph on August 16, 2013, explaining that his vision has improved since the grid laser treatment. R. 535. Allen's vision had improved to 20/80 in his right eye and 20/30 in his left eye. Dr. Randolph performed another grid laser treatment on Allen's right eye, and directed him to follow up in two months. R. 537.

         Allen returned to Dr. Randolph in October 2013, reporting no changes in visual acuity, occasional dryness in his right eye, and occasional wateriness in his left eye. R. 530. Allen described his symptoms as mild. Id. Dr. Randolph stated that Allen does not monitor his blood sugar on a regular basis. Id. Allen's vision was 20/100 in his right eye and 20/30 in his left eye. R. 531. Dr. Randolph noted decreased edema in Allen's right eye and explained that another grid laser procedure may be necessary. He cautioned Allen once again on the “ocular and systemic benefits of proper [blood pressure and blood sugar] control.” R. 533.

         Allen returned to Dr. Randolph in December 2013. R. 525. Allen's central vision was distorted in his right eye, but he did not report any new complications. Id. Allen's vision was rated as 20/100 in his right eye and 20/25 in his left eye. R. 526. Dr. Randolph conducted a focal laser treatment on Allen's right eye and again ...


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