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Hill v. Astrue

September 4, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Sean J., J.


Plaintiff, Mary E. Hill, commenced the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on June 7, 2005, alleging disability since December 13, 2004, due to glaucoma and minor cataracts (Administrative Record, hereinafter "AR", 72). Her application was denied and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (hereinafter "ALJ") (AR 53; 54-57). Following a hearing held on September 19, 2007, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance under the Act (AR 11-22; 264-91). Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council and, after accepting and considering additional evidence, the Appeals Council denied her request for review (AR 10; 9; 6-8), rendering the Commissioner's decision final under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The instant action challenges the ALJ's decision. Presently pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, I will deny the Plaintiff's motion and grant the Defendant's motion.


Plaintiff was born on March 27, 1956 and was fifty-one years old on the date of the ALJ's decision (AR 66; 11-22). Historically, the Plaintiff was born Triva Marlene McMahon and was placed in Saint Joseph's Home for Children in Erie, Pennsylvania (AR 192). Records from Saint Joseph's and Saint Vincent's Hospital in Erie reveal that Plaintiff's family history was significant for Huntington's Chorea (AR 192; 194). As an infant, Plaintiff was unable to sit up or straighten her legs, and she was considered mentally challenged (AR 192-94). A chest x-ray performed on January 14, 1957 revealed an unusual configuration of the heart, with extreme prominence of the left upper cardiac border detected (AR 193). A skull x-ray of even date disclosed flattening of the anterior fossa and an unusually thick frontal bone, with no evidence of increased intracranial pressure (Id.). Murl E. Kinal, M.D., reported on January 17, 1957 that Plaintiff, as a baby, appeared mentally challenged, suffered seizures, and had neurologic retardation resulting from her family history of Huntington's Chorea (AR 194).

Notwithstanding these early notations in the record, Plaintiff graduated from high school, had four or more years of college, and additionally had some type of special job training, trade, or vocational school (AR 77). Her past relevant work experience was as a newspaper reporter for approximately sixteen years (AR 21; 83-90). She has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 13, 2004 (AR 83).

Plaintiff was diagnosed with chronic angle closure glaucoma in the left eye by Subramamyam Segu, M.D., on October 17, 2003 and underwent a left eye YAG laser iridotomy on that date (AR 111-15). Dr. Segu treated Plaintiff every four months from October 15, 2003 until August 17, 2006, and on June 23, 2005, he noted that Plaintiff suffered from chronic angle closure glaucoma, optic atrophy with extensive visual field loss and mild cataracts (AR 117-29). On September 26, 2005, Dr. Segu reported that Plaintiff had blurred vision in the left eye (AR 125). Dr. Segu again noted on April 19, 2006 severe visual field loss of the left eye and mild cataracts (AR 124).

In addition to Dr. Segu, Plaintiff was also treated by opthamologist Perry Younger, M.D., who continuously noted a worsening condition in her left eye with decreased visual field, difficulty seeing small print, severe visual field loss, decreased vision and increased pressure between October 2003 and August 2007 (AR 131-48; 204-7).

Following her termination from the newspaper, the Plaintiff was eligible to receive services from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (hereinafter "OVR") (AR 195-98). Her Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Christopher M. Cowan, M.A., C.R.C., L.P.C., stated that her visual impairment was a substantial impediment to employment, but that she could benefit by receiving OVR's services to secure other employment (AR 195). Mr. Cowan further determined that Plaintiff was "most severely disabled" due to functional limitations in physical mobility, dexterity and coordination, physical tolerance, capacity to learn, communication, and self-direction (Id.). Mr. Cowan noted on February 3, 2006 that Plaintiff was interested in securing a job as a medical transcriptionist, for which she was to begin training (AR 197).

Plaintiff's primary care physician, Richard Reist, M.D., treated her for a urinary tract infection, right hip pain, asthma with allergies, glaucoma and bilateral cataracts between September 2006 and May 2007 (AR 150-74). Dr. Reist noted that Plaintiff had an excellent exercise tolerance and a normal psychiatric evaluation (AR 150). He diagnosed Plaintiff with fibroid uterus tumor and uterine myoma resulting in abnormal uterine bleeding, urinary frequency, stress incontinence, bladder compression with right hip pain, boney spurring of the greater trochanter and mild degenerative joint disease of the right hip (AR 156-58).

On May 24, 2007, Plaintiff endured hysterectomy surgery resulting in post-surgical diagnoses of fallopian tube cysts, chronic cystic cervicitis with squamous metoplasia, atrophic change of the endometrium, multiple intermural leiomyomas and a large leiomyoma with cystic degeneration (AR 161-62).

The Tidioute Health Center treatment notes of record revealed that Plaintiff was seen for intermittent abdominal pain resulting from her hysterectomy on September 21, 2007 (AR 211). The report also noted hot flashes, lower back pain and glaucoma, and referrals to a clinical psychologist for neuro-psychological testing, as well as a physiatrist, pursuant to the Plaintiff's request (Id.). She was diagnosed with asthma, cataracts and glaucoma (AR 211-14).

Plaintiff was evaluated by Garrett W. Dixon, M.D., a board certified physiatrist, on October 9, 2007 (AR 238-39). Plaintiff reported a history of low back and right hip pain (AR 238). Dr. Dixon noted that she received no treatment for her low back pain and that she took over-the-counter Tylenol or Aleve for the pain (Id.). Plaintiff disclosed to Dr. Dixon that her pain increased with sustained activity, and that at times the pain radiated into her legs (Id.). Plaintiff also revealed that she was able to perform some household chores, including light cleaning, walking her dogs, laundry and dishes, although she needed a break every eight to ten minutes while doing dishes (Id.). Dr. Dixon noted that Plaintiff alternated between sitting and standing during the examination, had a stooped posture with a mild thoracic kypnosis and fairly rigid spine, and a slightly flexed posture when walking (Id.). Dr. Dixon observed a straightening of the normal lumbar lordosis, lower lumbar paraspinal tenderness bilaterally, and right lumbar paraspinal spasm (AR 239). He diagnosed her with low back pain and lumbar osteoarthritis (Id.).

Subsequent x-rays of the Plaintiff's lumbar spine taken on October 10, 2007, indicated minimal scoleosis with concavity towards the left, mild facet hypertrophy along the lower lumbar vertebral bodies, 1-2 mm of anterolisthesis of L3 versus L4 and 2-3 mm of anterolisthesis of L4 versus L5, no evidence of fractures, and mild marginal bony spurring (AR 235). The impression from this report was degenerative changes with minimal anterolisthesis at L3-L4 and L4-L5 (AR 236).

Plaintiff and Sam Edelmann, a vocational expert, testified at the hearing held by the ALJ on September 19, 2007 (AR 264-91). Plaintiff testified that, following her termination from the newspaper, she had worked a part-time job at a call-center for three months, but was not asked to continue in the position once the term expired due to too many bathroom breaks (AR 270-71). She also received unemployment compensation for a time following her termination (AR 269-70). Plaintiff also stated her glaucoma caused significant problems driving (AR 274).

Plaintiff testified that she had difficulty performing her duties as a reporter at the newspaper prior to her termination in that she was unable to complete her work in a timely fashion due to the stress of the job, her slow brain functioning and distractability (AR 275-76). She revealed that she was disciplined at work for her performance problems (AR 276).

Plaintiff claimed that she could not perform full-time work due to her visual limitations, eye pain and lower back pain (AR 279). She indicated that she had worked with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and was found to have problems with speed and ...

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