The opinion of the court was delivered by: RONALD L. BUCKWALTER
This is an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying the claim of William Serody ("Serody") for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") provided under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment which were referred to the Honorable James R. Melinson, United States Magistrate Judge, who issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") on July 19, 1995.
The facts, procedural history, standard of review and medical evidence set forth in Magistrate Judge Melinson's July 19, 1995 R&R are approved and adopted by reference herein. In his R&R addressing the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, Magistrate Judge Melinson found that the ALJ correctly applied the applicable legal standards and that his decision to deny benefits to the claimant, William Serody, was supported by substantial evidence.
Specifically, the Magistrate Judge found that the ALJ properly concluded that Mr. Serody suffers from a severe derangement of his left knee and chronic headaches which preclude him from engaging in his prior employment as a fire fighter or fire fighting captain. Such disability, however, does not render the claimant totally disabled within the meaning of the Act. Rather, the ALJ found that despite his inability to engage in the type of work he formerly performed, Mr. Serody's physical condition does not prevent him from engaging in sedentary work for which he can wear a knee brace and where his absence can be accommodated when his headaches are problematic. Magistrate Judge Melinson recommended that the decision of the ALJ be upheld. Subsequently, the claimant raised numerous objections to the Magistrate Judge's R&R, to which the Commissioner did not respond. It is these objections which are currently before this court.
Objecting to Magistrate Judge Melinson's R&R, claimant Serody asserts that the court erred in finding:
(1) no medical evidence in the record supports Mr. Serody's claim of pain so severe that it would preclude him from substantial gainful activity; (2) the ALJ properly considered Mr. Serody's complaints of pain; (3) the ALJ decision gave proper weight to the opinion of plaintiff's treating physician Dr. Kaplan; (4) the report of Dr. Toland was contrary medical evidence which conflicted with the opinion of Dr. Kaplan; (5) the ALJ properly rejected the opinion of Mr. Serody's treating physician; (6) the vocational expert ("VE") did not invade the province of medical professionals; (7) the Commissioner satisfied the burden of proving that the plaintiff, given his age, education, and work experience has the ability to perform specific jobs that exist in the national economy; (8) plaintiff's motion for summary judgment should be denied while defendant's motion for summary judgment should be granted.
For the following reasons, this court finds the plaintiff's objections to be without merit. Magistrate Judge Melinson's July 19, 1995 R&R is therefore approved and adopted; plaintiff's motion for summary judgment shall be denied and defendant's motion for summary judgment shall be granted.
A claimant is "disabled" and entitled to disability benefits under the Social Security Act where it is determined that he is unable to engage in "any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505. 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1)(A), 423(d)(1)(A). The impairment must be so severe that the claimant "is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C § 423(d)(2)(A). Under the Act, the claimant bears the burden of proving the existence of a disability. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5). The claimant must provide the medical evidence which indicates that there is an impairment and the extent of its severity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5). In reaching a determination as to whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner must consider: (1) medical data and findings; (2) expert medical opinions; (3) subjective complaints; and (4) the claimant's age, educational background, and work history. Hammerstone v. Heckler, 635 F. Supp. 1089, 1092 (E.D. Pa. 1986) (citing Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 776 (4th Cir. 1972)). A claimant satisfies his burden by showing an inability to return to his former work. Rossi v. Califano, 602 F.2d 55, 57 (3d Cir. 1979). Once this showing is made, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant, given his age, education, and work experience, has the ability to perform specific jobs that exist in the national economy. Id.
Upon consideration of the record in this case, the ALJ determined that Mr. Serody's injury prevented him from returning to his prior employment as a firefighter or fire fighting supervisor, however, he decided that Mr. Serody was not disabled within the meaning of the Act as he remained capable of engaging in substantially gainful activity during the relevant time period. Further, the ALJ found Mr. Serody capable of performing specific jobs available in the national economy, despite his recognized limitations. Thus, the ALJ denied Mr. Serody's claim for disability benefits.
Addressing the medical evidence offered at the hearing in this matter, we note that doctors Kaplan and Toland examined Mr. Serody and offered their opinions concerning his physical condition and limitations. The ALJ considered the testimony and documentation of each doctor who examined the claimant. While the written reports of these physicians provide support for the conclusion that Mr. Serody did in fact experience some pain as a result of his injury, the assessments offered by these doctors disagree on the question of whether Mr. Serody remained capable of engaging in some kind of work, despite his limitations. In particular, Dr. Toland concluded that Mr. Serody could work in a sedentary capacity, provided he did not sit or stand for greater than an hour or two, wore a supportive knee brace to prevent falls and controlled his headaches. By contrast, Dr. Kaplan, the claimant's treating physician, unequivocally found the claimant to be totally disabled and incapable of engaging in any gainful employment. See ALJ rationale, p. 4; Tr. 161-163. In support of his conclusions, Dr. Kaplan proffered no clinical or laboratory diagnostic findings or specific reports detailing the extent of the claimant's functional abilities. Id. Instead, Dr. Kaplan offered only a summary of Mr. Serody's complaints, his recommended treatment and the general, conclusory opinion that Mr. Serody was "totally disabled." Id. In contrast, the report offered by Dr. Toland contained an assessment of Mr. Serody's upper extremities and spine as well as x-rays of the left knee, showing no ...