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Williams v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

May 15, 2017

JAMI K. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This action is before the court for judicial review of the final decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying the applications of plaintiff Jami K. Williams for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income benefits (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401- 434, 1381-1385. The parties have consented to the exercise of plenary authority by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the final decision of the Commissioner is reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1981 and was 32 years old at the time of her hearing. (Tr. 21, 225.) In her applications she alleged a December 1, 2012 onset date and that she was disabled due to glaucoma and blindness in her right eye. (Tr. 175.) Her applications were denied, and she requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Tr. 79-86.) On September 23, 2014, following a hearing, an ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 47-58.)

         On January 11, 2016, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 15-18.) On April 5, 2016, the Appeals Council set aside its January 2016 decision to consider additional evidence submitted by plaintiff, but found no reason to accept review of the ALJ's decision, so again denied review. (Tr. 1-5.) Thus, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner subject to judicial review. (Tr. 1-4.)


         Plaintiff was diagnosed with bilateral uveitis, a form of eye inflammation, and uveitic glaucoma, which is glaucoma resulting indirectly or directly from uveitis. (Tr. 328, 431, 442.)

         On December 16, 2011, plaintiff was seen at Barnes-Jewish Hospital for eye pain. She was diagnosed with uveitic glaucoma and a corneal abrasion. She experienced variable light sensitivity or photophobia, blurred or cloudy vision, tearing, and eye pain with headaches. (Tr. 261-65.) She was seen in the emergency room there on December 1, 2012, after experiencing a change in vision in her right eye, right eye pain and decreased vision, and headache. (Tr. 281-90.) She was seen again on January 27, 2013, after her right eye “went black” and felt as if there was a film over it. She was discharged with instructions to follow up at the eye clinic at Washington University School of Medicine. (Tr. 306-20, 337.)

         Plaintiff was treated at the Washington University School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology on a regular basis. She continued to experience variable vision in her right eye throughout the day, and both pressure and inflammation remained chronic issues. (Tr. 358-59, 360-61, 363-64, 372-73, 376-82, 384, 386-91, 396, 406-21, 425-28, 440-41). Between December 2012 and February 2013, plaintiff underwent outpatient laser iridotomy, a procedure for treating glaucoma, to her right eye on five occasions. (Tr. 286, 291, 334-36, 367, 396, 399-400, 403.)

         Plaintiff's uncorrected visual acuity in her right eye ranged from 20/25 to 20/300. Her uncorrected visual acuity in her left eye ranged from 20/20 to 20/125. (Tr. 283, 306, 363-64, 369, 376, 378, 380, 382, 384, 388, 406, 408, 410, 412, 414, 416, 418, 420, 424, 427, 429, 432-36, 438, 537-38, 543.)

         In July 2013, plaintiff began seeing Kimberly Hsu, M.D., an ophthalmologist and corneal specialist at Washington University School of Medicine, on a monthly basis. (Tr. 424-39, 537-38, 543-44.) Dr. Hsu provided three opinion statements. (Tr. 424-25, 431, 442, 542). On December 9, 2013 correspondence, Dr. Hsu stated plaintiff's diagnoses were bilateral uveitis and uveitic glaucoma with a history of right eye glaucoma surgery. She was currently being treated with a number of eye drops. Dr. Hsu opined that plaintiff “may have mild impairment of her vision related to this, but should be ok for most activities that do not require detailed vision.” (Tr. 431, 442.)

         On March 11, 2014, Dr. Hsu completed a Vision Questionnaire. In it, Dr. Hsu stated that plaintiff had been treated at Washington University Eye Clinic since 2011and that she had personally treated plaintiff there since July 2013. She prognosed plaintiff as “currently stable” and diagnosed bilateral uveitis with glaucoma. (Tr. 424.) Visual acuity of her right eye was best corrected to 20/30. Visual acuity of her left eye was best corrected to 20/25. Dr. Hsu stated plaintiff's symptoms included “blurry vision” and possible pain if there was a flare up of uveitis. She believed that plaintiff would occasionally be able to use near acuity, far acuity, depth perception, accommodation, color vision, and field of vision. (Tr. 424-25).

         On May 14, 2014, Dr. Hsu signed a disability-based reduced fare application for the St. Louis public transportation system or “Metro.” Dr. Hsu stated plaintiff required two accessibility features that must be present in order for plaintiff to use public transportation: (1) stop announcements; and (2) visual information display systems. (Tr. 542.)

         Plaintiff saw Laila G. Gabrawy, M.D., an ophthalmologist, on February 13, 2013. Plaintiff had blurry vision without eye pain or itching. Dr. Gabrawy diagnosed an eye disorder, myopia, astigmatism, keratitis (inflammation of the cornea) in the right eye, iritis or inflammation of the iris, nuclear senile cataract, chronic primary angle-closure glaucoma, and glaucoma with uveitis. She suggested cataract and glaucoma surgery for plaintiff's right eye and follow up at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. (Tr. 326-28, 371.)

         The record evidence demonstrates plaintiff stated on several occasions that she could not afford medical care and prescriptions. (Tr. 25, 31, 310, 337, 370-72.) Attending physician's notes from a January 27, 2013 emergency room visit at Barnes-Jewish Hospital state that plaintiff had run out of medications a week earlier because she was unable to afford them. The notes also state plaintiff underwent laser eye surgery on a weekly basis for a period of three weeks, but was unable to continue treatment due to inability to pay. (Tr. 310.) Plaintiff was also treated in the emergency room at Barnes-Jewish Hospital because she was unable to afford regular care at the eye clinic. (Tr. 337.) A Washington University management plan noted plaintiff probably needed steroids and long term immunosuppression. The plan also noted questionable ...

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