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Damron v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

October 27, 2017

MONICA L. DAMRON, Plaintiff,

          Michael H. Watson Judge.



         Plaintiff, Monica L. Damron, filed this action seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying both her Title II Disability Insurance Benefits and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income Disability applications. For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Statement of Errors be OVERRULED, and that judgment be entered in favor of Defendant.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Prior Proceedings

         Plaintiff filed her first applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) on April 10, 2006, alleging disability since March 20, 2006. (See Doc. 10-3, Tr. 94, PAGEID #: 145). Her applications were denied initially, after reconsideration, and by an Administrative Law Judge on December 17, 2007. (Id.).

         Plaintiff filed another application for DIB and SSI on June 21, 2010, this time alleging a disability onset date of December 18, 2007. (Id., Tr. 112, PAGEID #: 163). Her claims were denied initially on November 9, 2010 (Id., Tr. 122, PAGEID #: 173), and upon reconsideration on March 25, 2011 (id., Tr. 148, PAGEID #: 199). Administrative Law Judge Paul E. Yerian (the “ALJ”) held a hearing on May 17, 2012 (Doc. 10-2, Tr. 35, PAGEID #: 85), after which he entered a partially favorable decision on November 13, 2012, finding Plaintiff was disabled beginning on September 4, 2012, but not before (id., Tr. 10, PAGEID #: 60). Plaintiff sought review of the unfavorable portion of the ALJ's decision, but the decision became final when the Appeals Council denied review on January 28, 2014. (Id., Tr. 4, PAGEID #: 54). However, by order dated February 10, 2015, this Court remanded the claims for further consideration of the potential retroactivity of consultative optometrist Sarah Yoest's opinion. (Doc. 10-9, Tr. 724, PAGEID #: 782).

         Accordingly, a second administrative hearing was held on September 14, 2015 before ALJ Yerian, this time with respect to only the issue of disability for the period prior to September 4, 2012. (Doc. 10-8, Tr. 700, PAGEID #: 757). The ALJ issued a written decision on November 12, 2015, once again concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to September 4, 2012. (Id., Tr. 675, PAGEID #: 732). Plaintiff again requested review of the administrative decision to the Appeals Council, which denied her request on November 16, 2016. (Id., Tr. 666, PAGEID #: 723).

         Plaintiff filed this case on January 17, 2017 (Doc. 3), and the Commissioner filed the administrative record on March 24, 2017 (Doc. 10). Plaintiff filed a Statement of Specific Errors on June 20, 2017 (Doc. 16), the Commissioner responded on August 4, 2017, (Doc. 17), and no Reply was filed.

         B. Relevant Testimony at the Administrative Hearings

         1. May 17, 2012 Hearing

         Plaintiff's counsel began the hearing by explaining that Plaintiff has virtually no sight out of her right eye and stated that “[s]he has been told that her left eye is now weakening greatly.” (Doc. 10-2, Tr. 41, PAGEID #: 91). During Plaintiff's testimony, she reiterated that she had no eyesight with her right eye and could see “just motion.” (Id., Tr. 69, PAGEID #: 119). Plaintiff explained that with her left eye she can see people and big objects, she watches movies and DVDs, but she can't read because the words are too small. (Id.). Finally, Plaintiff stated that she can bathe and dress on her own, and she sometimes can do laundry, clean, and cook. (Id., Tr. 72, 75, PAGEID #: 122, 125).

         Dr. Richard Simmons, a board-certified ophthalmologist, also testified as a medical expert via telephone. (Doc. 10-2, Tr. 42, PAGEID #: 92). Although Dr. Simmons never personally examined Plaintiff, he reviewed her medical records prior to the hearing. (Id.). As to Plaintiff's right eye, Dr. Simmons opined multiple times that “there's no question the right eye's bad.” (Id., Tr. 44, PAGEID #: 94; see also Id. (“it's no question that she is surgically impaired in the right eye”)). Dr. Simmons testified that vision in the left eye, however, “is usually 20/30” and that the visual acuity in the left eye was not -22 or worse. (Id.). Ultimately, Dr. Simmons explained that he did not believe Plaintiff met or equaled the listings as a result of her vision issues, because the listings require that the best eye be considered-in this case Plaintiff's left eye-and it did not meet the listing requirements. (Id., Tr. 45, PAGEID #: 95).

         In terms of limitations, Dr. Simmons noted that Plaintiff would not have any depth perception due to her right-eye vision loss, which would make driving a car difficult. (Id.). He further testified that if work place hazards or dangerous machinery were directly in front of Plaintiff, she would be able to avoid them, but if they were off to the side, she would not. (Id., Tr. 46, PAGEID #: 93). Finally, Dr. Simmons opined that Plaintiff “ought to be able to read up close with a proper optical correction, ” she had no contraindications to using a computer screen, and she would have no problems in determining shape or colors of objects, such as screws, nuts, or bolts. (Id., Tr. 47, PAGEID #: 93).

         2. September 14, 2015 Hearing

         In an opening statement, Plaintiff's counsel stated that the key issue before the ALJ was the possible retroactivity of Dr. Yoest's September 2012 report. (Doc. 10-8, Tr. 704, PAGEID #: 761). During Plaintiff's testimony, she explained that she needs help with everything, including cooking, cleaning, and laundry, because she can't read the ingredients, measure, or differentiate colors. (Id., Tr. 708-09, PAGEID #: 765-66). Plaintiff also stated that she does not watch ...

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