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Wheeler v. Astrue

United States District Court, Third Circuit

April 29, 2013

MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


SEAN J. McLAUGHLIN, District Judge.


Richard H. Wheeler ("Plaintiff"), 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 ("Commissioner"), denying his claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. Plaintiff filed his application on July 2, 2009, alleging disability since April 1, 2009 due to detached retinas in both eyes (AR 83-91; 109).[1] His application was denied and he requested and was granted an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") (AR 56-59; 66-67).

Following a hearing held on May 17, 2010 (37-53), the ALJ concluded, in a written decision dated July 6, 2010, that Plaintiff was not entitled to a period of disability or DIB under the Act (AR 16-23). Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Council was denied (AR 1-5), rendering the Commissioner's decision final under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed his complaint challenging the ALJ's decision, and presently pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion will be denied and the Commissioner's motion will be granted.


Plaintiff was 54 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision and completed school through the 11th grade (AR 114). He has past relevant work experience as a foundry supervisor and tube bender (AR 110). He stopped working on January 28, 2009 after being laid off (AR 109).

Plaintiff presented to the emergency room at the Meadville Medical Center on April 19, 2009 and complained of vision problems in his right eye (AR 170). He reported a past history of a detached retina of his left eye (AR 170). He was diagnosed with a detached retina of the right eye and was referred for surgery (AR 170). Plaintiff subsequently had surgery to reattach his retina on April 20, 2009, and when seen by Donald Santora, M.D. on April 23, 2009, he had no pain complaints (AR 183). On April 29, 2009, Plaintiff complained of a "hazey view, " and on May 6, 2009, he reported that his vision was "cloudy" (AR 180; 182). Plaintiff had subsequent retina detachments and additional surgeries to repair the same (AR 198).

On June 23, 2009, Plaintiff was evaluated by Robert Bergren, M.D., from Retina Vitreous Consultants, and was diagnosed with a recurrent retinal detachment with associated proliferative vitreoretinopathy[3] in his right eye (AR 199). Dr. Bergren informed Plaintiff that without surgery his vision would be "very poor, " and with successful surgery, he would not obtain reading acuity but would have functional, ambulatory type vision (AR 199). Dr. Bergren found that his left eye was stable and did not anticipate that Plaintiff would have any further problems with that eye (AR 199). Dr. Bergren reported that Plaintiff was otherwise healthy with no systemic medical problems and was on no medications (AR 198).

Plaintiff subsequently had surgery on July 7, 2009 and was reportedly "doing well" on July 9, 2009 (AR 196-197). He was thereafter informed by Dr. Bergren that he could resume his daily activities (AR 194). When Plaintiff was contacted by the Social Security Administration on August 6, 2009, he reported that he was not being treated for any other conditions and did not have a primary care physician (AR 206). On August 8, 2009, Plaintiff completed a functional report with regard to his activities (AR 129-136). Plaintiff reported that he lived alone, maintained his personal care, watched television, kept track of bills and appointments, performed household chores, completed light yard work, and prepared meals daily (AR 129; 131). He also claimed he went outside several times a day, walked, drove a car and used public transportation (AR 132). Plaintiff further reported that he "often" went on dates, ate at restaurants, attended church, music shows, and the movies (AR 133). He indicated that he had difficulty walking and driving at night due to difficulty seeing, and used a magnifying glass to pay his bills (AR 132). Plaintiff stated that he could walk "a long ways, " had no problem paying attention, could follow instructions, got along well with authority figures, and was "good" at handling stress (AR 134-135).

Plaintiff returned to Dr. Bergren on August 13, 2009, and denied suffering from pain, but reported problems with his vision and that his "color perception was gone" (AR 177). On August 14, 2009, Plaintiff was seen by Judy Liu, M.D. from Retina Vitreous Consultants, and complained of vision problems (AR 192). Dr. Liu found Plaintiff had wrinkling of the retina from what appeared to be an epiretinal membrane, but there was no retina detachment (AR 192). When seen by Dr. Bergren on August 17, 2009, Dr. Bergren found that Plaintiff clearly had a change of vision in his right eye but the cause was unclear (AR 189). His condition was unchanged from his previous examination (AR 189). Dr. Bergren recommended that Plaintiff be observed for a few weeks to see if his vision changed any further (AR 189).

On September 11, 2009, Frank Bryan, M.D., a state agency reviewing physician, reviewed the medical evidence of record and concluded that Plaintiff could occasionally lift twenty pounds, frequently carry ten pounds, stand and/or walk for a total of six hours in an 8-hour workday, sit for about six hours in an 8-hour workday, and was unlimited in pushing and pulling activities (AR 208-209). He further found Plaintiff could occasionally climb, and frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl, but was limited in his field of vision (AR 209). He noted that he should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards such as machinery and heights (AR 210). In support of his conclusion, he relied, in part, on Dr. Bergren's treatment note dated August 17, 2009 (AR 212-213).

Plaintiff returned to Dr. Bergren on October 6, 2009 and reported that at times his vision was fairly clear but then "fade[d] out" and became "poor" (AR 296). Dr. Bergren reported that Plaintiff's right eye was "very stable" and looked good anatomically (AR 296). He was "a bit surprised" that Plaintiff's vision was not better, and recommended surgical removal of the silicone oil (AR 297). Plaintiff underwent the surgery on October 26, 2009 (AR 294-295).

Plaintiff returned to Dr. Bergren for a follow-up evaluation on February 25, 2010 (AR 292-293). Dr. Bergren reported that Plaintiff's right eye was stable with some "useful vision" (AR 293).

On March 30, 2010, Dr. Santora completed a form entitled "Vision Impairment Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire" (AR 304-305). Dr. Santora indicated that Plaintiff suffered from "poor" vision in his right eye secondary to chronic retinal detachment (AR 304). He further opined that Plaintiff's near and far visual acuity was such that it would not preclude him from performing work activities (AR 305). He found that Plaintiff had no exertional or postural limitations related to his vision problems, although ...

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