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Mator v. Astrue

March 12, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McVERRY


I. Introduction

Now pending before the court are PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Document No. 8) and DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Document No. 11). The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for resolution.

Randall Mator (hereinafter "Plaintiff" or "Mator"), brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") which denied his applications for both disability insurance benefits ("DIB") Under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act. 42 U.S.C.§§ 401-403 and 42 U.S.C.§§ 1381a.

II. Background

Plaintiff was born on April 25, 1962 and is classified as a "younger age" individual pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563, 416.963. Mator has a high school education and relevant past work history as a welder and warehouse worker, which is characterized as requiring medium exertion. Plaintiff had acquired sufficient quarters of coverage to remain insured for DIB through June 30, 2007.

Plaintiff alleges disability as of November 25, 2003 due to lower back ailments relating to "three bad discs in [the] back and nerve pain." R. at 34. Mator has a history of back problems documented as early as 2002 relating to mild scoliosis and "mild end plate spurring in the upper thoracic spine," and mild disc narrowing in the lumbrosacral spine. R. at 112-113. His lower back pain was exacerbated in part from a slip and fall in an icy parking lot on January 28, 2003. R. at 121. Due to the fall, Plaintiff was admitted to the Forbes Regional Hospital emergency room, where he was treated and released the same day. Id. The record reflects that he has been examined by multiple physicians and other health professionals.

During his emergency room visit following his fall in 2003, Mator was examined by. Leonard Urbanski M.D. who noted that an MRI revealed "grade I spondylolisthesis of L5 on S1" and a "bilateral pars defect at L5." R. at 122. Dr. Urbanski diagnosed Mator with musculoskeletal low back pain with radicular left leg pain and instructed him to follow up with James Uselman, M.D. Id. He was given a cane to assist with ambulation.

Plaintiff's subsequent examination by Dr. Uselman on January 30, 2003 noted no significant changes in condition and supported the diagnosis of spondylolisthesis at the L5-S1 level. R. at 123. The examination also showed good strength in both lower extremities. Id. Dr. Uselman prescribed four weeks of physical therapy and a back brace, requiring a follow up appointment within one month. Id.

On February 18, 2003, Mator was admitted to the Alle-Kiski Medical Center with complaints of depression, and "suicidal ideation." R. at 136. He was examined the following day by Surinder Bajwa, M.D. who noted Plaintiff's chronic back pain and concluded that he "appear[ed] to be in no acute distress" and "otherwise seem[ed] medically stable." R. at 133. On February 24, 2003, Plaintiff was discharged, denying any suicidal ideation. R. at 131. The clinical impression at that time was noted as recurrent major depressive disorder. R. at 132. There are no medical records for the period noted as February 2003 and December 2004.

Mator began a four week physical therapy session on December 7, 2004 which substantiated his decreased functional ability, decreased range of motion, decreased strength, and poor posture. R. at 164. The therapy sessions proved to be beneficial in the short term, but did not result in long term pain relief. R. at 159. After attending six of twelve prescribed physical therapy sessions, Plaintiff was discharged from the program and stated that he wished to pursue other avenues of pain relief. Id.

Mator was examined by Keith Goldstein M.D. on December 22, 2004 for the purpose of providing a report to the Bureau of Disability Determination. R. at 147. Dr. Goldstein's summary again noted spondylolisthesis and also mild arthritis/bursitis in Plaintiffs shoulders. Id. Dr. Goldstein also noted Plaintiff had well developed and muscular upper extremities and that he was not deemed a candidate for surgery regarding his back pain. R. at 149-151.

Mator was also examined by Dominic A. Kasony M.D. on May 9, 2005 for the purpose of providing a psychological disability evaluation report to the Bureau of Disability Determination. R. at 168. Dr. Kasony's report noted that Plaintiff's mental state dictated "slight restrictions in understanding and remembering short simple instructions," "moderate restrictions in understanding and remembering detailed instructions and carrying out the same," and "a slight restriction. . .in making judgment in simple work related decisions. R. at 175.

Plaintiff was also examined by Lloyd K. Richless M.D. on six*fn1 separate occasions in 2005 and 2007, each time noting negative straight leg raising tests. R. at 210, 208, 207, 205, 228, 229). Dr. Richless also corroborated the existence of grade 1 spondylolthesis. R. at 228, 229.

Lastly, plaintiff was also seen by Eugene A. Bonaroti M.D. for a neurosurgical consultation on February 2, 2007 who noted grade 1 spondylolisthesis and evidence of spina bifida and a positive straight leg raising test on the left at 30 degrees. R. at 212. He also recorded no motor, sensory, or reflex deficits. Id.

B. Procedural History

Mator protectively filed applications for DIB under Title II of the Social Security Act ("SSA") as well as an application for SSI under Title XVI of the SSA. The claims were denied initially on May 19, 2005. He then filed a request for a hearing which took place on February 20, 2007. Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing, which took place before Administrative Law Judge Elliot Bunce ("ALJ"). Plaintiff, as well as vocational expert Ms. Alina Kurtanic, testified at the hearing.

On March 28, 2007 the ALJ rendered a decision which was unfavorable to the Plaintiff under the five- step sequential analysis used to determine disability for the purpose of awarding SSI or DIB.*fn2 At step one, ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not engaged in substantial gainful activity. At step two, ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: "degenerative disc disease, with spondylolisthesis and evidence of spina bifida; depression; anxiety; and substance addiction, now in remission." R. at 20. At step three, ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or exceeded the criteria of impairments set forth in Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525,404.1526, 416.920(d),416.925, 416.926). At step four, ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff did not have the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to return to his previous lines of work as a welder or warehouse worker. However, at step 5, ALJ found that the Plaintiff has the RFC to perform work that does not ...

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