United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
SARAH S. VANCE
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
VAN MEERVELD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
plaintiff, Jerry Lynn Torres, seeks judicial review, pursuant
to Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”), of the final decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration (the
“Commissioner”) denying his claim for
supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381. The matter has been
fully briefed on cross-motions for summary judgment. For the
following reasons, IT IS RECOMMENDED that the Motion for
Summary Judgment filed by the plaintiff (Rec. Doc. 14) be
DENIED; and the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the
Commissioner (Rec. Doc. 15) be GRANTED.
Torres applied for SSI on April 17, 2014, asserting a
disability onset date of January 1, 2013. He alleged the
following illnesses, injuries, or conditions: vision
problems, bad stomach, and right kidney shutting down. On
October 15, 2014, his claim was denied by the state agency.
Mr. Torres obtained counsel and requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held
on February 25, 2016. On May 4, 2016, the ALJ issued an
adverse decision. The Appeals Council denied review on August
September 27, 2017, Mr. Torres filed a Complaint in federal
court to review the Commissioner’s decision. (Rec. Doc.
1). The Commissioner answered and filed the administrative
record. (Rec. Docs. 10, 11). The parties filed cross-motions
for summary judgment. (Rec. Docs. 14, 15). Mr. Torres is
represented by counsel.
in the Record
hearing was held before the ALJ on February 25, 2016. Mr.
Torres lived with his parents and his children aged 10 and 11
at the time of the hearing. R. at 42. Mr. Torres testified
that he wore glasses as a child, but stopped wearing glasses
after high school because he stopped going to the eye doctor.
R. at 39-40. He testified that he got glasses again about
eight months prior to the hearing. R. at 40. Mr. Torres
testified that he does some cleaning and cooking around the
house. R. at 42. Sometimes he takes his children fishing. R.
at 42. He can take care of himself, bathe, dress, and shave,
though he noted he did not use a razorblade. R. at 47.
Torres testified that he had not worked at all since 2013,
except for occasionally cutting a neighbor’s grass. R.
at 41. During a telephone interview with the state agency in
conjunction with his application for disability benefits Mr.
Torres reported that he stopped working in October 2008 due
to the conditions specified in his application (vision
problems, bad stomach, and right kidney shutting down). R. at
112. He reported working in construction from 1998 through
2008 and as a stocker in a grocery store from 1999 through
2007. R. at 113.
asked why Mr. Torres had told the consultative examiner that
he could read, watch TV, shop, and take public transit, if it
cannot see at all. R. at 40. Mr. Torres said he does not take
public transportation and that his mother drives him
everywhere. R. at 40. He said the only time he reads is when
he helps his children with their homework and he uses his
eyeglasses and a magnifying glass to do so. R. at 40. He
explained that sometimes he rides with his mother, who does
the shopping. R. at 42-43. He said that he can watch TV
because he does not sit far away and he has a 64 inch TV. R.
at 45. Mr. Torres testified that he can walk outside without
bumping into things, unless they are in his peripheral
vision. R. at 45. He said he would trip on the sidewalk if it
had a lip. R. at 45.
Torres only challenges the ALJ’s findings with regard
to the extent of his visual limitations. Accordingly, the
Court’s summary of medical records is limited to vision
related medical records.
consultative examination was performed on August 4, 2014, by
Dr. Gary F. Carroll with Internal Medicine Associates of New
Orleans, LLC. R. at 220. Dr. Carroll noted that Mr. Torres
does not have a driver’s license, but he is able to
take standard public transportation. R. at 221. Dr. Carroll
also noted that Mr. Torres performs household chores, reads,
and watches television. R. at 221. Upon a review of systems,
Dr. Carroll noted Mr. Torres has a history of myopia. R. at
221. Mr. Torres reported that he had not worn lenses or had
an eye examination since childhood. R. at 221. Upon physical
examination, Mr. Torres’ uncorrected visual acuity was
measured at 20/160 bilaterally. R. at 222.
Torres presented to Dr. de la Rua on October 2, 2014, for an
eye examination. R. at 227. Dr. de la Rua filled out a
Disability Determination Services Eye Examination Report. R.
at 227. Mr. Torres had uncorrected visual acuity of 20/200 in
the right eye and 20/CF (count fingers) in the left. R. at
227. With best correction, visual acuity was measured at
20/150 in the right eye. R. at 227. Dashes in the row for
“left eye” indicate that the corrected vision in
the left eye remained 20/CF. R. at 227. An SSA Kinetic test
was performed, and the results were attached. R. at 228-29.
In the next section of the form, Dr. de la Rua noted that Mr.
Torres was cooperative, but that the test results were not
valid. R at 227. His notes explain “ambulation/mobility
observed in free space does not reflect or agree [with]
severe field constrictions.” R. at 227. He added that
the “situation may be clarified with [Visual Evoked
Potential] testing.” R. at 227. Dr. de la Rua included
no further explanation regarding the validity or invalidity
of the test results. Despite his note regarding invalidity,
Dr. de la Rua filled out the last portion of the form, asking
whether the claimant can read fine print, read large print,
handle and work with large objects, drive an automobile,
operate machinery, avoid objects in workplace pathways, or
avoid people approaching from the side. R. at 227. For all,
he circled “no.” R. at 227. For “handle
large objects” and “operate machinery” he
put a question mark next to the “no” response. R.
agency examiner Dr. Jerome Medley reviewed the medical
records in Mr. Torres’ disability benefits application
and completed a case analysis on August 28, 2014. R. at 60.
In the residual functional capacity assessment, Dr. Medley
summarized Mr. Torres’ visual limitations as best
vision of 20/150 in the right eye and CF (count fingers) in
the left eye, a history of amblyopia, and severe constriction
of visual fields on SSA kinetic testing exam. R. at 60. But
Dr. Medley noted the exam of Mr. Torres’ eyes did not
show any abnormalities to account for the poor vision or poor
visual fields and the result of the consultative examination
“were felt not to be valid.” R. at 60. Dr. Medley
further noted that he called consultative examiner Dr. de la
Rua, who “stated claimant was able to manipulate around
the office without any problems. If his vision and such
severe constriction of his fields were this bad, he would
have had problems in a strange environment.” R. at 60.
A case analysis form by Dr. Medley dated October 15, 2014,
concludes “deny vision because of invalid
findings.” R. at 230.
at the University Medical Center in New Orleans
(“UMC”) on February 12, 2015, for evaluation of
chronic kidney disease, Mr. Torres reported bilateral vision
changes and stated that he has had vision difficulties since
he was a child. R. at 259, 261. On February 23, 2015, he
returned to UMC to establish care with a primary care
physician. R. at 268. Chronic blurry vision was noted in the
review of systems. R. at 269. However, the recommended plan
focused on a renal work up, blood pressure medication, his
abdominal pain, and his back pain, but not blurry vision. R.
December 10, 2015, Mr. Torres presented at the UMC for a
hypertension eye screening. R. at 345. Goals of keeping blood
pressure below 140/80 and cholesterol with LDL below 100 were
discussed. R. at 347-48. He was referred to LSU
Ophthalmology. R. at 348.
Torres presented at the UMC Vision Center on February 15,
2016, to establish care. R. at 385. He complained of dry,
itchy eyes. R. at 385. Mr. Torres received an eyeglasses
prescription for .5 in the right eye and .75 in the left
eye. R. at 232.
days later on February 25, 2016, Mr. Torres received an
eyeglasses prescription for .25 in the right eye and .75
in the left eye from Dr. Dennis Muller with Eyedox. R. at
236. Dr. Muller also noted that Mr. Torres has
“complete loss of inferior visual field” and
recommended that he be examined for pituitary adenoma or
other space taking lesion. R. at 237.
evidence that was not before the ALJ was submitted by Mr.
Torres to the Appeals Council. Mr. Torres submitted
additional records from his February 15, 2016, visit with the
UMC Vision Center. R. at 30. He was diagnosed with bilateral
amblyopia and poor vision. R. at 30. Uncorrected visual
acuity in the right eye was 20/70-2 and 20/200 in the left.
R. at 30. Final prescription was .5 for the right eye and
.75 for the left eye. R. at 31.
submitted additional records from his February 25, 2016,
examination at Eyedox with Dr. Muller. R. at 27-28. Mr.
Torres reported blurred vision at distance and near,
peripheral vision, and dry eyes. R. at 27. Unaided visual
acuities were recorded as 20/200 in both the left and right
eyes. R. at 26. Final prescription assigned was .25 in his
right eye, resulting in visual acuity of 20/50, and .75 in
his left eye, resulting in visual acuity of 20/70. R. at
27-28. Upon examination, Dr. Muller noted bilateral visual
field screening was normal. R. at 28. Impressions were noted
as dry eye syndrome, hyperopia, and astigmatism. R. at 28.
Torres also submitted records from a December 29, 2016,
examination by Ophthalmologist Dr. Martin J. Schoenberger.
Vision in his right eye was 20/200 and in his left eye was
20/400. R. at 9. Dr. Schoenberger wrote Mr. Torres an
eyeglass prescription for � in the right eye and in
the left eye, with additional 225 in both. R. at 8. Dr.
Schoenberger ordered a carotid ultrasound for optic
neuropathy. R. at 12.
January 3, 2017, a carotid bilateral study was performed
using B-mode and Doppler scanning. R. at 10. A history of
ischemic optic neuropathy was noted. R. at 10. Impression ...