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Hayes v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

June 23, 2015

OANDREA L. HAYES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

NANETTE K. LAUGHREY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Oandrea Hayes seeks review of the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) decision denying her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., §§ 1381, et seq. [Doc. 20]. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is affirmed.

I. Background

A. Procedural Background

Hayes filed her applications for disability benefits in September 2006. After a hearing in March 2009, an ALJ concluded that Hayes was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Administration. After the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision, Hayes appealed the decision to this Court in May 2011. In February 2012, this Court remanded the case for further consideration after concluding that the ALJ made no explicit findings as to Hayes' functional limitations, failed to address whether Hayes had any visual or environmental limitations, and failed to evaluate Hayes' functional loss due to her mental impairments as required by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a(c)(3). See Hayes v. Colvin, No. 2:11-cv-04132-NKL (W.D. Mo. filed Feb. 2, 2012). A second hearing with a new ALJ was held in October 2012, and in January 2013, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled because Hayes could perform work that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. [Tr. 811]. The Appeals Council affirmed and Hayes appealed the final decision to this Court. Hayes alleges the Commissioner's decision should be revered for three reasons.[1] First, Hayes argues the ALJ's determination that her vision loss is non-severe is not supported by substantial evidence. Second, Hayes contends the ALJ improperly relied on the vocational expert's (VE) testimony because the job of "power screwdriver operator" is inconsistent with Hayes' RFC. And third, Hayes argues the ALJ's conclusion that she could perform work as a "photo copy machine operator" is not supported by substantial evidence because the VE testified that she could not perform that job due to her seizure disorder.

B. Medical History

Hayes has a significant history of medical conditions including sarcoidosis, asthma secondary to sarcoidosis, headaches, seizures and pseudo-seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, sarcoidosis-related vision loss, joint and back pain, and hypertension. However, because Hayes only contests the ALJ's analysis of her vision loss, the medical history below is limited to that impairment.[2]

Hayes vision loss is primarily restricted to her left eye. In all but one examination, Hayes' right eye vision was 20/20. In November 2005, Hayes complained of decreased vision. Upon examination, her left eye vision was 20/600. [Tr. 455]. In May 2006, Hayes' left eye vision was 20/20 and examination of the eye was largely normal. [Tr. 246]. In November 2006, Hayes' left eye vision was 20/400. [Tr. 459]. There were "diffuse nonspecific changes throughout the left visual field, " decreased color vision, mild afferent pupillary defects, mild optic nerve pallor, and significant "candle wax" drippings or vitreous "snowballs" consistent with a vitritis or overt intraocular inflammation. Id. at 459-60. All other aspects of her eye were within the normal limits. In December 2006, Hayes' vision was 1/200 in the left eye, and she experienced a "further decline in vision." [Tr. 422]. There was a "3-quadrant visual field defect in the left eye." [Tr. 422]. Hayes described this vision loss as only having one small area of vision. [Tr. 466]. In January 2007, Hayes' vision improved to 20/50 in the left eye suggesting "some improvement in visual function." [Tr. 465]. In March 2007, Hayes' left eye vision was 20/30. [Tr. 463]. Hayes complained of "significant side effects" from the medication being used to improve her vision, and the ophthalmologist agreed to reduce the dose. In April 2007, Hayes' left eye vision was 20/30. [Tr. 466]. In June 2007, she had 20/40 vision in her left eye. [Tr. 470]. In November 2007, Hayes' left eye vision declined to 20/400. [Tr. 469]. The ophthalmologist opined that Hayes had "decrease in vision in the left eye that is quite variable suggesting possible nonorganic vision loss... from neurosarcoidosis." [Tr. 472]. In December 2007, Hayes' left eye vision improved to 20/40. [Tr. 476]. In February 2010, Hayes had 20/30 vision in her left eye and reported no significant change in visual function. [Tr. 1370]. The ophthalmologist stated that Hayes has left eye visual loss secondary to infiltrative optic neuropathy in relationship to neurosarcoidosis, that the vision loss "remained stable to possible improvement, " and that there was no evidence of active sarcoidosis involving the eyes. [Tr. 1370-71]. Hayes was asked to return in two to three years. [Tr. 1371]. In April 2012, Hayes' right eye vision was 20/25 and left eye vision was 20/30. [Tr. 1472]. The ophthalmologist stated that Hayes had stable visual loss and left eye optic atrophy. There was evidence of thinning of the nerves in both eyes, but no change since 2007 and 2009 examinations. Hayes was asked to return in one year. Id. At her hearing in October 2012, Hayes testified that she experienced no changes in her vision during the last six years. [Tr. 1739]. She stated she could only see "just basically a little circle in my left eye." Id.

C. ALJ's Decision and VE's Testimony

After the second hearing, the ALJ concluded that Hayes had the following severe impairments: sarcoidosis with asthma, headaches, seizures with pseudo-seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. [Tr. 796]. The ALJ determined that Hayes' vision loss, knee and back pain, and hypertension were non-severe. The ALJ concluded that Hayes had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work. She could lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. She could stand, walk, or sit six hours in an eight hour day. She cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, should avoid all exposure to temperature extremes and pulmonary irritants, and should avoid hazards such as unprotected heights and being around dangerous moving machinery or the operation of motorized vehicles. She can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions consistent with unskilled work and can tolerate only minor, infrequent changes within the workplace. She can tolerate occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors but not contact with the general public. [Tr. 800].

In support of her finding that Hayes' vision loss was non-severe, the ALJ stated that the longitudinal treatment records showed that Hayes' vision significantly improved and was currently stable. [Tr. 797]. The ALJ also concluded that Hayes' activities of daily living were inconsistent with a finding that her vision loss caused more than a minimal vocationally relevant limitation. Id.

At the October 2012 hearing, the ALJ enlisted the expertise of a VE. The VE testified that Hayes could not perform past work. [Tr. 1756]. The VE then provided several other jobs he believed Hayes could perform such as a housekeeper/cleaner, laundry worker, power screwdriver operator, and photo copy machine operator. [Tr. 1758-59]. The housekeeper/cleaner and laundry worker jobs were rejected by the ALJ due to limitations within Hayes' RFC. Relying on the VE's testimony, the ALJ concluded that Hayes was not disabled because she could perform work as a power screwdriver operator and as a photo copy machine operator.

II. Discussion

A. Is the ALJ's conclusion that Hayes' vision loss is non-severe supported by ...


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