United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
ARTHUR L. MITTLER, JR., Petitioner,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.
CATHERINE D. PERRY, District Judge.
This is an action for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying Arthur Mittler's application for benefits under the Social Security Act. Mittler seeks disability benefits under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits based on disability under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. Section1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), and Section 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), provide for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner.
At his hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), Mittler claimed that he was disabled because of proliferate retinopathy with macular edema, impaired vision in his right eye, arthritis with gout, and diabetic neuropathy. Although the ALJ found that Mittler's impairments are severe and impose a more than minimal limitation on his ability to perform work-related activities, she ruled that Mittler was not disabled. On appeal, Mittler raises two issues. First, he claims the ALJ failed to correctly follow the treating physician rule by failing to give proper weight to the opinions of the treating physicians. Second, he claims that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate his credibility. Because I find that the decision denying benefits was supported by substantial evidence, I will affirm the decision.
I. Procedural History
Mittler filed for both Disability Insurance benefits and for Supplemental Security Income on May 25, 2010, alleging disability as of February 1, 2009. (Tr. 151-60). The Social Security Administration denied his claims on October 19, 2010, and he filed a request for a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on December 11, 2010. (Tr. 99-107, 110-11). An ALJ held a hearing on March 19, 2012, at which Mittler testified. (Tr. 32-58). A vocational expert also testified. (Tr. 58-77). The ALJ denied Mittler's claim on July 19, 2012. (Tr. 8-25). On October 28, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Mittler's request for review. (Tr. 1-7). Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final determination of the Commissioner.
In the instant action for judicial review, Mittler contends that the ALJ committed legal error by failing to follow the treating physician rule and by failing to properly evaluate Mittler's credibility. Mittler requests that the final decision be reversed and that he be awarded benefits, or that the matter be remanded for further consideration. For the following reasons, the decision of the ALJ will be affirmed.
II. Evidence Before the Administrative Law Judge
In his application for benefits, Mittler stated that he was born in 1963 and was 45 years old on the alleged disability on set date. (Tr. 151). He claims that because of his various impairments he been disabled and unable to work since February 1, 2009. (Tr. 151). He has a high school education. (Tr. 188). Mittler reported previous employments as a sunroom/deck installer and an independent claims adjustor. (Tr. 188).
In his Disability Report, Mittler claimed that lower back arthritis, diabetes, proliferate retinopathy (macular adema), neuropathy in hands and feet, blindness in right eye, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol limit his work ability. (Tr. 187). He ceased working February 1, 2009, the alleged date of disability onset. (Tr. 151, 187). The Disability Report interviewer noted that "claimant did display some difficulty sitting down and getting up once seated." (Tr. 184).
In Mittler's Function Report, he stated that he gets his son up for school, helps his daughter dress and eat, watches his daughter during the day, and helps prepare dinner. (Tr. 198). He reported inability to stand or sit for long periods of time and difficulty holding or grasping objects. (Tr. 199). Pain in his feet and legs affect his sleep. (Tr. 199). Mittler can prepare simple meals like sandwiches and frozen food. (Tr. 200). He can leave the house alone and still drives. (Tr. 201). Mittler also shops for groceries, hygiene products, and clothes (Tr. 201). He can pay bills, count change, handle a savings account, and use a checkbook. (Tr. 201). His ability to handle money has not changed since the conditions began. (Tr. 202). Mittler visits his family for birthdays and holidays. (Tr. 202). However, he cannot watch television for long periods of time due to his eye problems and can no longer play sports. (Tr. 202-03). He does not handle stress well and has bouts of anxiety. (Tr. 204). Mittler claims that his conditions affect lifting, squatting, bending, standing, walking, sitting, kneeling, stair climbing, seeing, and using his hands. (Tr. 203). Sitting for a long period of time causes his legs to go numb and back pain starts. (Tr. 205). Mittler can no longer lift heavy objects. (Tr. 205). Pain and numbness affect his feet and legs after walking for a distance. (Tr. 205). He also can only stand for short periods of time before his feet and legs go numb and tingle. (Tr. 205).
At the hearing before the ALJ, Mittler testified to having vision problems when he focuses on an object, like a computer or a book for too long. (Tr. 32). He has trouble focusing after fifteen minutes. (Tr. 54). Although he had surgery to restore sight to his right eye, his vision is still blurry. (Tr. 33). He experiences floaters in his left eye. (Tr. 34). His quality of vision fluctuates from day to day with his blood sugar. (Tr. 54-55). He also reports having problems with depth perception but little to no peripheral vision difficulties. (Tr. 57). Light sensitivity has also been an issue for him, especially when going from light to dark. (Tr. 58).
Mittler reports a stiff lower back with a pain level of seven out of ten but has not sought treatment. (Tr. 35, 39, 48). More specifically, his back starts to hurt after two to three hours of sitting. (Tr. 48). He takes Advil or the like to control his pain. (Tr. 48).
His cholesterol is not controlled because he stopped taking his medication. (Tr. 39-41). Mittler testified that he cannot exercise due to the neuropathy in his feet, and that the neuropathy keeps him from standing more than twenty minutes at a time. (Tr. 40, 45). He says that after thirty minutes, his leg will go almost completely numb on his left side. (Tr. 45). He has trouble with balance because he cannot feel the outsides of his feet and parts of his toes. (Tr. 45). When sitting, not only does his back hurt, but his hands and arms go numb; the left side is worse than the right. (Tr. 47).
Mittler is right handed but still reports difficulty writing and typing on a computer. (Tr. 50). He constantly needs to switch activities, stating ability to use fine manipulation skills for only fifteen minutes at a time. (Tr. 50-51). He also reports difficulty gripping objects and because of sensation issues in his fingers, he drops a lot of things. (Tr. 53-54).
Mittler can lift fifty pounds at once and can lift lighter weights routinely and repeatedly without dropping them (Tr. 51-52). Mittler also reports three to four gout flare-ups per year. (Tr. 43).
III. Medical Records
One of the earliest medical records is dated July 6, 2009 and indicates that Mittler received medical treatment through Gateway Endocrinology. (Tr. 249). Dr. Jerry Thurman found Mittler's blood sugar level above average. Id. In March, 2010, Mittler again visited Dr. Thurman's office. (Tr. 252). Although his blood sugars were uncontrolled, he appeared alert and "in no distress." (Tr. 253-54). Mittler was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and reported some tingling and decreased distal sensation. (Tr. 256). His medications included Glucophage, Crestor, insulin, Accupril, and Amaryl. (Tr. 256-57).
On February 19, 2010, Mittler had his first appointment with Dr. Olk at the Retina Center. (Tr. 303). On March 11, 2010, Mittler underwent photocoagulation surgery on both his eyes. (Tr. 315). On March 25, 2010, Mittler then underwent vitrectomy surgery with membrane peeling and supplemental endophotocoagulation on his right eye. (Tr. 313). Neither surgery had any complications. (Tr. 313, 315). Mittler completed follow-up appointments May 14, 2010, July 16, 2010, April 14, 2011, April 28, 2011and May 13, 2011. (Tr. 269, 305, 394, 396, 398). On June 16, 2011, Mittler underwent photocoagulations to both eyes. (Tr. 470). Again, no complications ensued. Id.
On June 18, 2010, Mittler went to St. Johns Mercy Medical center, under emergency circumstances, with pain and swelling in his left ankle. (Tr. 286). The medical record states that ankle pain was a new problem. (Tr. 287). Mittler "complain[ed] of pain to the calf and radiation up into his upper leg. He [felt]that his leg [was] mildly swollen." Id. The report states that Mittler did not have a history of "anything like this before." Id. Sensation and circulation were intact to his left foot. (Tr. 289). Mittler was prescribed hydrocodone-acetaminophen and indomethacin. (Tr. 286).
On July 26, 2010, Mittler was examined by Dr. Samer Thanavaro. (Tr. 382). Mittler's blood sugar was still uncontrolled, and he was not checking his blood sugars or exercising as much. (Tr. 382-83). Although the report found distal sensation diminished, Mittler was again "alert, well appearing, and in no distress" despite reported foot numbness and pain. (Tr. 383, 385). The report also found Mittler "with good mental function and without memory (sic) deficits." (Tr. 382).
On November 6, 2010, Mittler visited Dr. Daniel Kramer. (Tr. 373). Mittler complained of peripheral neuropathy and left hand neuropathy. Id. Dr. Kramer diagnosed hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes mellitus without complication, obesity, painful diabetes mellitus neuropathy, and a back problem. (Tr. 376).
On January 26, 2011, Mittler was examined by Dr. Thurman. At that visit, Mittler complained of foot numbness and pain, but he denied blurred vision/visual disturbances. (Tr. 367). Dr. Thurman found Mittler's general appearance again to be "alert, well appearing, and in no distress." (Tr. 369). Further, although Mittler's diabetes mellitus was still poorly controlled, Dr. Thurman found Mittler's distal sensation intact. (Tr. 369-70).
On July 25, 2011, Mittler visited Dr. Kramer. (Tr. 440). Dr. Kramer diagnosed Mittler with diabetes mellitus with neurological manifestation, hypertension, diabetes mellitus neuropathy, a back problem, and controlled diabetes retinopathy. Id.
On November 2, 2011, Mittler visited Dr. Thurman. (Tr. 492). Dr. Thurman noted that "[h]is blood sugars have been uncontrolled" and "[h]e checks his blood sugars never." Id. Mittler reported foot numbness/pain. (Tr. 493). Dr. Thurman noted that Mittler "had a retinal hemorrhage last week and has been untreated." Id.
On December 2, 2011, Mittler followed up with Dr. Kramer. (Tr. 437). As Mittler was without health insurance and worried about money, he was ...