United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division
ORDER AND OPINION REVERSING COMMISSIONER'S FINAL
DECISION DENYING BENEFITS AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER
D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE
is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social
Security's decision denying her application for
supplemental security income. For the following reasons, the
Commissioner's decision is reversed, and the case is
remanded for further proceedings.
determining whether a claimant is disabled, the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) employs a
five-step process. Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963,
968 (8th Cir. 2010). At step two, which is relevant to the
Court's decision, the ALJ evaluates whether the claimant
has a severe impairment that significantly limits her
physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities.
R. at 30; Dixon v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 602, 605 (8th
Cir. 2003). As stated in the ALJ's decision, “[a]n
impairment is ‘severe' within the meaning of the
regulations if it significantly limits an individual's
ability to perform basic work activities.” R. at 30.
“An impairment...is ‘not severe' when medical
and other evidence establish only a slight abnormality or a
combination of slight abnormalities that would have no more
than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to
work.” Id. (citations omitted).
argues this matter should be reversed and remanded because
the ALJ failed to properly consider her vision impairment,
and failed to find her vision impairment was severe. When
applying for supplemental security income in October 2015,
Plaintiff alleged disability due to heart failure and kidney
failure. R. at 192. After her application was denied in April
2016, she requested a hearing before an ALJ. Before the
hearing was held, Plaintiff began experience difficulties
with her vision. See R. at 601, 692, 713, 738,
1341-1489. In December 2016, Plaintiff was diagnosed with a
detached retina in her right eye, and after surgery to repair
the condition, her vision remained limited. In June 2017,
Plaintiff's visual field was full in her left eye but
non-existent in her right eye.
hearing before the ALJ in September 2017, Plaintiff's
counsel identified vision problems as one of Plaintiff's
severe impairments. R. at 51. Plaintiff testified her right
eye vision was limited to “just motion and
light.” R. at 57. She could not read small print but
could read a sign that was approximately twelve to fifteen
feet away. R. at 58. Because of her vision, Plaintiff cannot
drive, has difficulties looking at her smartphone, she
frequently runs into things, and lengthy use of her eyes
causes eye strain. R. at 59, 73-74.
the hearing, the ALJ posed questions to a vocational expert
(“VE”) about a hypothetical individual's
ability to work, assuming the hypothetical individual was of
similar age, education, and experience as Plaintiff, and had
certain physical limitations identified by the ALJ. R. at
76-80. The ALJ did not identify any vision limitations.
Id. The VE testified the hypothetical person could
perform work as a cafeteria attendant or cashier. R. at
76-77. Plaintiff's counsel asked the VE about a
hypothetical person who could not see out of her right eye,
and with her left eye, can maintain focus for an hour but
would need to take a ten to fifteen minute break for each
hour of close focusing, and had limited depth perception
making it difficult for her to see an object on the floor. R.
at 80-81. The VE stated neither position she identified
required depth perception, but the cashier position required
frequent near acuity, and the cafeteria attendant required
occasional near acuity. R. at 81. The VE also further
testified, “if the person is unable to avoid hazards in
the workplace that could be definitely something that could
cause problems with maintaining employment.” R. at 81.
conclusion of the hearing, Plaintiff's counsel asked the
ALJ for a consultative examination of Plaintiff's vision.
R. at 81. The ALJ noted a June 2016 medical record provided
Plaintiff's visual acuity. Id. Plaintiff's
counsel explained Plaintiff's vision problems did not
begin until July 2016 and became much worse in December 2016.
Id. In response, the ALJ stated a visual examination
was “probably warranted” because Plaintiff had
“a pretty significant retinal detachment surgery”
that did not completely resolve the issue. R. at 82. The ALJ
also suggested Plaintiff obtain a statement from her eye
surgeon. Id. Plaintiff's counsel represented a
statement had been requested but the surgeon had not provided
it yet. Id. The ALJ then stated he would “look
at the record again and see if I think [a consultative
examination is] warranted.” Id.
decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled, the ALJ
concluded “claimant's various eye problems,
including vision loss, conjunctivitis, and retinal
detachment, are non-severe.” R. at 31. He noted
Plaintiff's retinal detachment was an acute issue
requiring surgical correction, and stated she experienced
“significant deficits to her right eye's visual
acuity” following surgery. R. at 31-32. Nevertheless,
the ALJ found Plaintiff's “various eye
conditions” were not severe because her “left eye
and combined visual acuity remained normal, ”
“she later denied eye problems and demonstrated normal
optical findings, ” and her eye conditions
“caused only minimal problems and did not impede”
her ability to work. R. at 32.
Court finds the ALJ's findings with regard to
Plaintiff's vision conditions - particularly his finding
that these conditions cause only “minimal
problems” - are not supported by the record.
Accordingly, the ALJ's decision is reversed. Because the
record is not fully developed as to the vocational
limitations related to Plaintiff's vision impairments, a
consultative examination is necessary. Upon remand, Plaintiff
shall undergo a vision ...