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Halldin v. Astrue

May 7, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McVerry, J.


I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Arthur Halldin, (hereinafter "Plaintiff") brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), which incorporates § 405(g) by reference, for judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") which denied his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433 and 1381 - 1383(f).

II. Background

A. Facts

Plaintiff was born on January 25, 1944, and is classified as an "advanced age" individual pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d). Plaintiff is a high school graduate.

Throughout his work history, Plaintiff held several positions and worked consistently from 1961 to 2004 with the exception of three years in the early 1990s. R. 55. Plaintiff has past work experience as a printing press operator, a cutting press machine operator, and a hand packer. R. 197. At the administrative hearing, the vocational expert testified that the printing press operator position was considered light and skilled, the cutting press machine operator position was considered light and semi-skilled, and the hand packer position was considered medium and unskilled. Id.

Plaintiff alleges disability, as of March 31, 2004, due to back and knee pain. Since January 2000, Plaintiff has been seen and treated by his primary care physician, Edward H. Sawicki, M.D., for back, neck, and knee pain.. R. 111-116, 152-157. The limited medical record reflects that Plaintiff has a history of hypertension and lumbar disc disease, characterized by complaints of hip and back pain. R. 16. However, in July 2004, an x-ray of the lumbar spine revealed evidence of only mild narrowing / degenerative changes at the L4-5 level with no evidence of fracture, subluxation or other degenerative / arthritic abnormality.

The record does not reveal any complications stemming from Plaintiff's history of hypertension. Physical examinations have consistently revealed a regular heart rate and rhythm, clear lungs and no edema of the extremities. R. 110-114; 151-157.

On July 28, 2004, Durre Ahmed, M.D., performed a consultative physical examination at the request of the state agency. R. 131-140. Plaintiff reported that he had a history of back, hip, and knee pain, although he had no recollection of how the hip and back pain started. R. 131. Plaintiff reported that his knee pain started after he had a work-related accident while working in a coal mine. Id. He stated that he experienced a continuous dull ache in his back, hip and knee, and that he could walk seven (7) blocks before the pain worsened. Id. He also experienced difficulty bending over and getting up from a sitting position on the floor. Id. Plaintiff used Tylenol Extra Strength which helped relieve the pain "a little." Id. Plaintiff reported that he could go up and down steps, but with some difficulty, was able to cook and clean for himself, and ran the sweeper for a short periods of time. Id. Plaintiff denied having any headaches, diplopia, sore throat, or ringing in his ears. R. 132. He also denied having any chest pain, pedal edema, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, polyuria, polydipsia, or cold or heat intolerance. Id.

Upon physical examination, Dr. Ahmed noted a normal range of motion in the cervical area, shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, wrist, and knee. R. 133. The lumbosacral spine movement was restricted. Id. Plaintiff's strength and tone were good with no signs of atrophy or involuntary movement. Id. Plaintiff's gait was stable and he could walk on his heels and toes. Id. His touch and pain were intact with normal coordination and reflexes in his biceps, triceps, brachioradialis, quadriceps, and gastrocnemius. Id. Dr. Ahmed noted that Plaintiff could occasionally lift and carry 10 pounds, due to his back, knee, and hip pain, he could stand and walk for an hour or less, and he could only sit for one hour. R. 138. Plaintiff could occasionally bend, kneel, stoop, crouch, balance, and climb. R. 139. He had no limitations regarding reach, handling, fingering, feeling, seeing, hearing, speaking, or tasting. Id. Dr. Ahmed completed a Medical Source Statement in which he limited Plaintiff to part-time sedentary work. R. 136-37.

On August 5, 2004, a state agency medical consultant assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity ("RFC"). Based on his review of the medical records, the medical consultant concluded that Plaintiff could occasionally lift and/or carry 50 pounds, frequently lift and/or carry 25 pounds, stand and/or walk for about 6 hours in an 8-hour day, sit with normal breaks for about 6 hours in an 8-hour day, and push and/or pull (including the use of hand and/or foot controls) for an unlimited period of time. R. 142. The state medical consultant found no evidence of any manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations.

R. 145. He also found that Plaintiff retained the capacity for medium work, a finding that differed from the conclusion of Dr. Ahmed R. 147. The state medical consultant noted that the opinion of Dr. Ahmed was not supported by evidence and provided greater restrictions than necessary. Id.

On October 4, 2004, a state agency physician, K. Sarpolis, M.D., reviewed and agreed with the RFC assessment prepared by the state medical consultant. R. 149-150.

In early 2005, Plaintiff saw Dr. Sawicki on a couple of occasions, in which he reported knee, neck, and back pain with movement. The physical examination revealed decreased neck and lower back range of motion, while Plaintiff's knees had full range of motion. R. 152-153. Dr. Sawicki prescribed Mobic for Plaintiff's pain and Covera to regulate his blood pressure. R. 155. At subsequent appointments in April, June, and September 2005, Dr. Sawicki noted that Plaintiff continued to experience pain with movement of his knee, neck, and lower back, although the range of motion in Plaintiff's neck was normal. R. 153-154.

The medical records do not reflect that Plaintiff has required aggressive medical treatment, frequent hospitalization confinement / emergency room care or surgical intervention for his allegations of chronic pain.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed his application for DIB and SSI on May 28, 2004. The claim was denied by the Pennsylvania state agency. An administrative hearing was held on July 14, 2006, before Administrative Law Judge William W. Berg ("ALJ"). Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing. Also testifying at the hearing was Irene Montgomery, an impartial vocational expert.

On July 24, 2006, the ALJ rendered a decision which was unfavorable to Plaintiff in which he found that Plaintiff retained the residual capacity to perform work at the light exertional level, with restrictions, and ...

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