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PATTERSON v. CHATER

September 24, 1997

MARY V. PATTERSON, Plaintiff, against SHIRLEY S. CHATER, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, 1 Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SPRIZZO

 SPRIZZO, D.J.:

 Plaintiff Mary V. Patterson brings the instant action challenging a decision of defendant Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying her application for Social Security disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), Patterson and the Commissioner cross-move for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons set forth below, Patterson's motion is granted and the Commissioner's final decision denying Patterson disability benefits is reversed.

 BACKGROUND

 From 1974 to 1980, Patterson was employed as a secretary for the Hertz Corporation in Manhattan. Tr. at 37, 102. From late 1980 until mid-1992, Patterson held a similar secretarial position with Memorial Sloan Kettering, where she was terminated from her job because of her poor vision and inability to work effectively in front of a computer screen. Tr. at 36, 37, 49, 102. Shortly thereafter, Patterson found work as a secretary for Thomas William Partners, a law firm in Manhattan, which lasted for only eight days because of Patterson's continued difficulties with eye strain from the computer screen and headaches. Tr. at 54.

 In November 1992, Patterson received a general physical examination from Dr. Peter Graham, who noted decreased visual acuity on Patterson's left side, and a history of asthma and arthritis pain. Tr. at 115, 117. Dr. Graham observed that Patterson had full range of motion, and opined that Patterson could perform work that included sitting, bending, lifting, carrying, hearing and speaking. Tr. at 115, 117-18.

 That same month Patterson was examined by Dr. Nirenberg, a consulting ophthalmologist. Tr. at 122. Dr. Nirenberg noted that Patterson had a history of high blood pressure, a heart murmur, asthma and arthritis. Tr. at 122. He further noted that Patterson complained of pressure pain in her left eye, headaches on her left side, and decreased vision in the left eye since childhood. Id. Dr. Nirenberg found Patterson's visual acuity to be 20/25 corrected in the right eye but that she was essentially blind in the left eye with a lens trace nuclear sclerotic cataract, slight exotropia, and a choroidal scar due to "old toxoplasmosis." Tr. at 122-23. Dr. Nirenberg advised Patterson to see an Ear, Nose & Throat doctor and have sinus workup, and also prescribed new glasses. Id. He further noted that Patterson had no difficulty navigating in the patient lounge. Id.

 On March 30, 1993, Patterson underwent a second physical examination which had been arranged by the Commissioner. The examining physician, Dr. Myron Seidman, found osteoarthritis in Patterson's knees and shoulders, and recorded her virtual blindness in the left eye along with her complaints of throbbing headaches behind the left eye and forehead. Tr. 130-32. He noted the history of asthma but found Patterson to be asymptomatic on the day of the exam and all other pulmonary functions were normal. Tr. 132, 149-50. Dr. Seidman concluded based on the objective findings of his examination, that he would limit Patterson to "light to moderate lifting and carrying with limitation from extensive standing, walking, pushing, pulling leg controls." Tr. at 132. He further concluded that Patterson had slight limitation sitting, no limitation handling objects, and "has eye problems." Id. *fn2"

 On October 9, 1992, Patterson filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability as of May 29, 1992, her last day of work at Sloan Kettering. Tr. at 58, 102. Her claim was denied initially and after reconsideration. Tr. at 62, 76. Patterson then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on April 25, 1994. Tr. at 32-57. At the hearing, the ALJ received into evidence the above mentioned medical reports concerning Patterson's physical condition and testimony from Patterson who was represented by counsel.

 Patterson testified that her work at Sloan Kettering consisted of typing, filing, answering the telephones and acting as a receptionist. Tr. at 36. Moreover, when asked by the ALJ whether she was a secretary or an office clerk, Patterson testified that she was a secretary. Id. After working eleven years at Sloan Kettering, Patterson further stated that her employer told her that she would have to learn to use a computer, and sent her to a computer class. Tr. at 49. Because Patterson's eyes teared repeatedly and she suffered headaches behind her eyes, she was unable to keep up with the pace of the class, and did not complete the course. Tr. at 49-50. Furthermore, Patterson stated that she began to receive poor evaluations at work and made mistakes in her typing due to her poor vision. Tr. at 50.

 Patterson testified that her afflictions have never required hospitalization. Tr. at 37. However, she stated that she did go to the emergency room six or seven times between May 1992, and April 1994, because of shoulder pain and situations where she could not see anything other than black spots. Id. Patterson further stated that she has visited doctors about eight times over this same two year period for her eyes and asthma, that they have given her oxygen for her severe asthma flare ups which occur about twice a week, and that if she could not make it to the emergency room, she would drink water and sit up with a pillow behind her back. Id. Patterson estimated that she can remain seated for one hour and a half, can remain standing for an hour at a time, can walk a maximum of eight blocks, that bending is a problem because of her sore knees and shoulders, and estimated that she can lift twenty-five pounds or the contents of her shopping cart. Tr. at 42. However, when examined by her attorney, Patterson testified that she would not be able to repeatedly lift certain large file folders at Sloan Kettering, which weigh approximately eight pounds each. Tr. at 48. Patterson stated that she performs a full range of household chores, does volunteer work two days a week by serving coffee and reading the newspaper to nursing home residents, and has looked for work since May 1992, but has been repeatedly turned down because of her poor vision. Tr. at 43-44.

 On May 25, 1994, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision to Patterson finding her not to be under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time through the date of his decision. Tr. at 20. Specifically, the ALJ stated that "the claimant cannot return to her last job, because of the use of a computer requirement, which she is unable to fulfill, but claimant can still do general clerical work where the use of a computer would not be necessary." Tr. at 19. On June 15, 1994, Patterson filed for a review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. Tr. at 10. Patterson provided the Appeals Council with an additional medical evaluation; *fn3" however, her appeal was denied on October 28, 1994. Tr. at 3, 10.

 On October 17, 1994, Patterson filed the instant action alleging that she became disabled and unable to perform any work due to impaired vision, headaches, asthma and arthritic pain as of May 29, 1992, and that the ALJ's decision denying social security disability benefits was not supported by substantial evidence and was contrary to law and regulation. Pursuant to ...


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