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Outlaw v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 28, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the U.S. Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.


          HON. MARIA VALDEZ United States Magistrate Judge

         This action was brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff Terrance J. Outlaw's (“Plaintiff”) claims for Disability Insurance Benefits. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 12] is granted and the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 17] is denied.


          I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed dual applications for DIB and SSI on September 6, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of November 10, 2008, due to blindness in the left eye-optic nerve and diabetes. (R. 158-67, 185.) His initial applications were denied on October 14, 2011, and again at the reconsideration stage on February 24, 2012. (R. 95-98.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on March 6, 2012. (R. 119.) The hearing was held on December 14, 2012. (R. 30-94.) Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with his attorney and offered testimony. (Id.) A vocational expert (“VE”) and medical expert (“ME”) also appeared and offered testimony. (Id.) On April 19, 2013, the ALJ issued a partially favorable written decision, finding Plaintiff disabled as of November 1, 2012, but not before. (R. 9-25.) The Appeals Council (“AC”) denied review on April 26, 2014, leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner and, therefore, reviewable by the District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (R. 1-3); See Haynes v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005); Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 332 (7th Cir. 1994).

         II. Factual Background [2]

         Plaintiff was born on February 14, 1979 and was thirty-three years old at the time of the hearing. (R. 37.) He has his GED. (Id.) Plaintiff was last employed as a laborer, but stopped working in 2012 when he was dismissed from his duties due to poor performance. (R. 42-43.)

         A. Medical Evidence

         Plaintiff's first treatment of record is dated January 11, 2007, but his medical notes document a history of left optic neuritis.[3] (R. 257.) It was in January 2007, however, that Plaintiff was diagnosed as completely blind in his left eye. (Id.) Plaintiff's treatment involving his right eye began in 2008. (R. 255.) An MRI taken on September 15, 2008, revealed changes in his right eye that had not be present on previous image scans. (R. 256.) A few years later, on July 25, 2011, Plaintiff presented to Humberto De Leon, M.D., complaining of visual impairment in his right eye that had been worsening for two weeks. (R. 282, 284.) An examination at the emergency department that same day revealed that his vision was 20/200 in his right eye. (R. 287.) Dr. De Leon treated Plaintiff with steroids, which significantly improved his condition. (R. 283, 314.)

         On October 13, 2011, Calixto Aquino, M.D. conducted a Physical Residual Capacity Assessment of Plaintiff. (R. 293-300.) Dr. Aquino found that Plaintiff experienced no exertional, manipulative, or communicative limitations. (Id.) He also found that Plaintiff had some visual limitations, including limited far acuity[4] and depth perception. (R. 296.) Due to these limitations, Dr. Aquino opined that Plaintiff should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards (including machinery and heights) and all exposure to ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. (R. 295, 297.)

         In September 2012, Plaintiff was examined by Jeffery Nichols, M.D., an ophthalmologist. (R. 433-36.) Dr. Nichols' noted that Plaintiff suffered from defective vision[5] in his right visual field, but his examination revealed that all of Plaintiff's right sided visual fields were within normal limits. (R. 434.) He ultimately opined that Plaintiff suffered from neurosarcoidosis[6]. (R. 435.) Dr. Nichols' examined Plaintiff again a few weeks later at a follow-up appointment on November 8, 2012, and reached virtually identical results. (R. 437-41.)

         On December 31, 2012, Dr. Nichols completed a Medical Source Statement where he provided opinions regarding Plaintiff's visual impairment. (R. 513-15.) As of December 2012, Dr. Nichols had been treating Plaintiff every two weeks for one year. (R. 513.) Dr. Nichols opined that Plaintiff could perform work that: (1) never involved depth perception; (2) rarely involved his field of vision; (3) occasionally involved his near acuity, far acuity, and accommodation; and (4) frequently, but not constantly, involved his color vision. (R. 514.) He also opined that Plaintiff was unable to avoid ordinary hazards in the workplace such as boxes on the floor, doors ajar, or approaching people. (Id.) Lastly, he noted that Plaintiff's attention and concentration would be impacted by his visual impairments. (Id.)

         Finally, on January 9, 2013, Robert Taub, M.D., completed a Medical Interrogatory where he opined that Plaintiff met Listing 2.03B on, but not before, November 1, 2012. (R. 523-25.) Listing 2.03 involves contraction of the visual field in the better eye.[7]

         B. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff testified that he is blind in his left eye. (R. 44.) He retains some peripheral vision in his right eye, but he is unable to see toward his nose. (R. 61.) He opined that his vision loss prevents him from employment because it is unsafe for him to work around others. (R. 57.)

         Plaintiff testified that he last worked as a laborer where his job duties included sweeping, light duty wiping, and breaking down boxes. (R. 41-42.) He was hired as a seasonal employee with the possibility of long term employment, but was later dismissed due to poor performance (R. 42.) Plaintiff testified that his employer was not aware that he suffered from visual impairments. (R. 70.)

         Plaintiff stated that he experiences eye pain, specifically throbbing in his eyes, four times per week. (R. 67.) He also reported back pain if he sits, stands, or walks for too long. (R. 52.) Plaintiff believes his back pain a result of both his weight gain[8] and two resolved disc slips. (Id.)

         C. Vocational ...

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