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Valdez v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 20, 2014

LILIAN VALDEZ a/k/a LILIAN POLANCO, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION

WILLIAM J. MARTINI, District Judge.

Plaintiff Lilian Valdez a/k/a Lilian Polanco is a former airplane cleaner who suffers from glaucoma and various orthopedic ailments. Polanco applied for Disability Benefits and Supplemental Security Benefits, arguing that she became disabled on September 15, 2005. The Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") found that Polanco was disabled beginning on February 27, 2007, but was not disabled from September 15, 2005 through February 26, 2007. Polanco challenges the Commissioner's finding that she was not disabled from September 15, 2005 through February 26, 2007. For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

I. FACTS

In 1986, Polanco began seeing halos, and she was diagnosed with Glaucoma. Administrative Transcript ("Tr.") at 145. Over the next ten years, she underwent three surgeries on her eyes. Id.

On April 26, 2006, Polanco filed a claim for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income, alleging a disability beginning on September 15, 2005. Roughly one month after she filed her application, Polanco filled out a function report for the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, in which she noted that she shopped, cleaned, did laundry, and attended to personal hygiene and grooming. Id. at 111-15.

On June 16, 2006, Polanco was examined by orthopedist Dr. Justin Fernando. Id. at 140. At the examination, Polanco complained of pain in her lower back, knees, right shoulder, and right hand. Id. Polanco said that at times she had no pain, and at other times she was severely incapacitated by pain. Id. Polanco acknowledged that she had no history of trauma preceding these pains, which she said had "evolved over a period of years" and had become "severe" in the previous three years." Id. Dr. Fernando diagnosed the absence of a left ankle reflex, as well as degenerative disc disease/arthritis/disk herniations of the lumbosacral spine, subjective lumbosacral radiculopathy, and osteoarthritis of both knees. Id. at 143. Dr. Fernando ultimately concluded that, "[f]rom an orthopedic standpoint, [Polanco's] prognosis is stable." Id. at 143. Dr. Polanco added, "[t]here was mild limitation for bending at the waist. No other objective limitations were evident by today's exam." Id.

On June 26, 2006, Polanco was examined by opthamologist Dr. Stephen Doro. Id. at 145. Dr. Doro found that Polanco's best corrected vision was hand motion in the right eye and 20/60 in the left eye. Id. at 146. Based on Dr. Doro's examination, Dr. Lourdes Marasigan, a reviewer for the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, found that Polanco had the visual capacity for "gross visual activities; sufficient for tasks involving typewritten material." Id. at 148. Dr. Marasigan noted that Polanco should avoid heights and hazardous machinery.

On July 24, 2006, Richard Weksberg of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance filled out a physical residual functional capacity assessment for Polanco. Id. at 150. Weksberg found that Polanco had no exertional limitations or postural limitations, but she did have limited depth perception. Id. at 151-52. Weksberg also found that Polanco needed to avoid heights and dangerous hazards. Id. at 153.

On May 17, 2007, physiatrist Dr. Rashel Potashnik examined Polanco and identified an absence of vertebral tenderness. Id. at 162. She noted a full non-tender range of motion in the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands. Id. at 163. She identified xray evidence of "exaggerated kyphosis, " commonly known as hunchback, as well as mild arthritic deformities. Id. at 162-63. Dr. Potashnik concluded that Polanco had osteoporosis. Id. at 163.

On May 15, 2007, opthamologist Dr. Thomas Materna examined Polanco. Id. at 166. Dr. Materna diagnosed glaucoma in both eyes. Id. at 167. Dr. Materna found that Polanco had no vision in her right eye, and 20/40 vision in her left eye. Id.

On June 6, 2007, medical consultant Dr. Robert Walsh concluded that Polanco possessed no exertional, postural, manipulative, or environmental limitations, but did possess visual limitations. Id. at 171-74. However, Dr. Walsh was not provided with any treating source's statement about Polanco's physical capacities. Id. at 176.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On April 26, 2006, Polanco applied for benefits, alleging a disability beginning September 15, 2005 based on glaucoma, back and knee pain, and left-sided swelling. Id. at 101. Polanco's claims were denied on August 1, 2006, and then again upon reconsideration on June 13, 2007. Id. Polanco's request for a hearing was granted, and a hearing was convened on June 2, 2008. Id.

One month after the hearing, the ALJ issued an initial decision in Polanco's case. The ALJ began by finding that Polanco's glaucoma constituted a severe impairment but Polanco's orthopedic impairments did not. Id. at 220-21. The ALJ proceeded to find, based on Dr. Materna's examination, that Polanco had become disabled because of her visual problems. Id. at 222-23. Dr. Materna's examination took place on May 15, 2007. The ALJ explained that "it is not unreasonable to assume that [Polanco's] decreased visual acuity existed at least three months prior to this examination." Id. at 223. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Polanco had become disabled beginning on February 25, 2007. Id. at 225. However, the ALJ found that Polanco's eye problems were ...


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