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Olga M. Claudio v. Michael J. Astrue

January 11, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge:



On December 28, 2006, Olga Claudio applied for Supplemental Security Income and disability insurance benefits, alleging that she had been disabled since May 25, 2006 as a result of glaucoma and epiretinal membranes. Her claim was denied on July 23, 2007. She requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and appeared with counsel at a hearing on December 22, 2008. In a decision dated June 2, 2009, ALJ Gal Lahat concluded that Claudio was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act because she retained the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work as a billing clerk/coordinator and a records clerk. The Social Security Appeals Council denied Claudio's request for review on September 28, 2009, thus making the ALJ's adverse decision the decision of the Commissioner. See DeChirico v. Callahan, 134 F.3d 1177, 1179 (2d Cir. 1998).

In this case, Claudio seeks review of the decision denying her benefits, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). The Commissioner has moved for judgment on the pleadings, and I heard oral argument on May 14, 2010. Because the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record, I grant his motion.


Claudio is 63 years old. She worked full-time to support herself from 1966, when she turned 18, until 2006, when she turned 58. (R. 111.) From 1973 until 1992, she worked as a keypunch operator, manually entering data using a keyboard. While working as a keypunch operator, Claudio, who attended school only through the eighth grade, earned her GED and completed classes in medical terminology and computer skills. (R. 33.) In 1993 she began working as a medical billing analyst, and in 1997 she began working as a medical billing coordinator. These jobs required her to scrutinize documents and input information into a computer. (R. 45-46.)

A. Medical Evidence

In 2002, Claudio began experiencing pain in both eyes and was diagnosed with

glaucoma. In March 2006, while she was driving, the pain became so intense that she pulled over to the side of the road. After recovering, she sought treatment at the emergency room of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, a hospital in Manhattan. (R. 36.) She complained that her eyes had been tearing and painful for two weeks and that they felt as though they were irritated by grains of sand. (R. 157.) She rated the severity of her pain as "one" on a scale from 0 to 10 (ten being the worst). (Id.) In addition to glaucoma, the examining doctor diagnosed her with epiretinal membrane, blepharitis, and dry eye syndrome.*fn1 (R. 158.) She had already been prescribed Lumigan, a topical glaucoma medication intended to reduce intraocular pressure; the doctor instructed her to apply Systane and Refresh lubricant drops as well. (Id.)

At a visit in April 2006, the examining doctor noted that Claudio had a history of epiretinal membrane and that she complained of no pain or other symptoms. The doctor reported that a GDx imaging test revealed "severe thinning" of the nerve fiber layer in the back of the eye, indicating advanced glaucoma, but that this result was unreliable and thus an OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) imaging test of the eye should be conducted.*fn2 (R. 159.)

In late June 2006, Claudio had laser surgery for glaucoma on her left eye (R. 193-94); in early July, she had the same surgery on her right eye (R. 197-98). After each procedure, she was prescribed Pred Forte, a steroid used to reduce eye inflammation, and told to apply it to the affected eye for five days. (R. 194, 198.) At that time, she was already applying Lumigan drops twice a day, Systane drops three times a day, and pilocarpine drops four times a day.*fn3 (R. 160.)

Claudio received follow-up care at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary until November 2006. The treatment notes from that period indicate that she consistently suffered from inflammation and pressure in her eyes and that she was prescribed a growing assortment of medications to manage her symptoms. In late July, she was suffering from iritis and still applying Pred Forte, although her doctor expressed hope that her use of that drug could be slowly tapered off. (R. 222.) In early August, she was complaining of pain, redness, and light sensitivity. An examining doctor described her eyes as cycloplegic, indicating that the muscles that control the entry of light and permit focusing were impaired or paralyzed. (R. 185.) By mid-August, she was applying Pred Forte, or some other type of steroid, every seven hours. Though her pain had "resolved," according to an examining doctor, her post-operative iritis lingered, she had developed a response to the steroids, and she continued to experience high intraocular pressure in her right eye. Her doctor directed her to apply Cosopt to her right eye, begin using Acular, stop using pilocarpine, and switch from Pred Forte to Lotemax.*fn4 (R. 186.) In late August, the examining doctor noted that although there was some improvement in Claudio's symptoms, the post-operative iritis and steroid response remained. By then she was applying six medications -- Acular, Cosopt, Lotemax, Lumigan, Systane, and Genteal -- to her eyes every day, yet continued to report pain in her right eye. (R. 188.)

The examination record for Claudio's September 22, 2006 appointment contains a note that Claudio said she felt "great" and had used no drops that day. (R. 189.) Nevertheless, the examining doctor detected inflammation of the uvea (id.), and, upon referral, a specialist confirmed the suspicions of uveitis. (R. 175.) In October, Claudio began using a new drug, Alphagan P, prescribed to lower intraocular pressure. (R. 192.) Despite her seven-drug regimen, she still suffered from iritis, steroid response, and pain in her left eye. (Id.)

In April 2007, Claudio began experiencing photopsia and floaters and was referred to Dr. Joseph Crapotta. He noted she was using Cosopt, Genteal, and Restasis.*fn5 He diagnosed her with epiretinal membranes and symptomatic ...

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