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Russell v. Astrue

July 9, 2009


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


Plaintiff, David M. Russell, commenced the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who found that he was not entitled to disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on February 3, 2005, alleging that he was disabled since November 15, 2000 due to right shoulder and neck injuries, diabetes, and depression (Administrative Record, hereinafter "AR", at 74). His application was denied and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") (AR 24-28). A hearing was held on March 13, 2007 and following this hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time through the date of his decision and therefore was not entitled to DIB benefits (AR 14-23;605-33). Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Council was denied (AR 5-8), rendering the Commissioner's decision final under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The instant action challenges the ALJ's decision. Presently pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, I will deny the Plaintiff's motion and grant the Defendant's motion.


Plaintiff was born on March 13, 1954 and was fifty-three years old on the date of the ALJ's decision (AR 610). He received a high school education (AR 610). His past relevant work experience was as a highway maintenance worker and as a heavy machine operator (AR 21, 613). Plaintiff had received a CDL license (AR 614).

In September 1999, Plaintiff injured his right shoulder while at work (AR 87). Plaintiff was diagnosed with impingement syndrome and arthritis in the shoulder joint by Lawson C. Smart, M.D (AR 87). Beginning in November 1999, Plaintiff received nerve block injections to the shoulder from Robert Concilus, M.D., a pain management specialist. These injections continued through 2003 (AR 111, 113, 116, 117, 119, 121, 125, 127, 129, 131, 134, 135, 137, 139, 141, 143, 147, 151, 344, 347, 346, 348, 349, 350, 352, 353, 354, 355, 356, 357, 358, 359, 360, 361, 362, 363, 364, 365, 366). Plaintiff reported that the injections provided some relief of his shoulder pain (AR 111, 354, 356).

On January 25, 2000, Plaintiff underwent a psychosocial evaluation assessment with Marilyn Antoun, M.A., a pain management specialist. Ms. Antoun indicated that the Plaintiff was suffering from affective changes due to his injury and financial and family stressors (AR 209-210). Despite his injury, Plaintiff indicated that he continued to work driving a snowplow for PennDot (AR 209). In her treatment plan, Ms. Antoun indicated that Plaintiff needed anger management education, and indicated that she would speak with Dr. Concilus about putting him on antidepressant medication (AR 211). At sessions with Ms. Antoun in February and March of 2000, Plaintiff discussed anger management techniques (AR 207-208). In April 2000, Plaintiff reported improvement at home and more effective use of anger/frustration strategies (AR 206).

Plaintiff underwent shoulder surgery in April 2000 to reduce impingement from his injury (AR 87, 90, 227). The surgeon noted that his post-operative course was uneventful (AR 87).

In a post-surgery June 2000 session with Ms. Antoun, Plaintiff reported increased pain levels, problems with medication, zero tolerance for frustration, trouble remembering and organizing things and conflict with his wife (AR 205). He was placed on Prozac (AR 205). On June 28, 2000, Plaintiff's wife indicated that Plaintiff's anger management strategies had improved overall (AR 204). In July 2000, Plaintiff indicated that he was having some "wild thoughts," but denied suicidal ideation (AR 203). He also indicated that he had an overall reduction in pain as his physical therapy continued and he had been cleared to perform light work (AR 203).

In August 2000, Plaintiff reported to Ms. Antoun that his Prozac was causing a decrease in libido and some diarrhea (AR 202). At this session, Plaintiff was hyper and agitated, but indicated that he had taken a caffeine tablet earlier in the day. He admitted to experiencing some "wild thoughts" but could not give examples and reported that none of the thoughts were suicidal (AR 202). At a session in September 2000, Plaintiff indicated that he was placed on Wellbutrin (AR 199). He complained of increased sleep interruptions, but Ms. Antoun indicated "more appropriate affect" and "some improvement" (AR 199).

At his October 2, 2000 pain management session the Plaintiff continued to complain of pain, but exhibited an increased range of motion (AR 198). Beginning in October 2000, Plaintiff also began group therapy sessions for pain management that lasted through January 26, 2001 (AR 181, 186, 187, 188, 190, 191, 193, 196). On November 8, 2000, Plaintiff complained of increased depression symptoms to Ms. Antoun (AR 192).

On November 16, 2000, Plaintiff's doctor cleared him for full-time light duty work (AR 273). An MRI of Plaintiff's shoulder in December 2000 indicated that he had severe tendonitis, possible subluxation of the long head of the biceps and degenerative changes and mild impingement of the muscle (AR 272). Despite these findings, a second clearance for light work was issued on December 4, 2000 (AR 270).

On December 14, 2000, Plaintiff reported at his therapy session that he had begun to experience intense headache pain and indicated that he believed his headaches were stress related (AR 185). Plaintiff had a normal chemical stress study of his heart on January 1, 2001*fn1 (AR 342). In early 2001, Plaintiff was also diagnosed with diabetes, which he decided to control with hypoglycemics and weight loss (AR 129).

A second surgery was scheduled for Plaintiff's shoulder due to a rotator cuff tear, which Plaintiff reported was postponed due to headaches that he related to removing ice and snow from the roof of his home (AR 182). On January 31, 2001, Plaintiff indicated that he significantly reduced his caffeine intake, which made him feel less "revved up" (AR 180). Plaintiff indicated a reduction in the number and the intensity of his headaches on February 12, 2001 (AR 179). However, Plaintiff reported sleep interruptions and recurrence of nightmare activity in late February (AR 178).

On March 27, 2001, Vincent J. Paczkoskie performed a second shoulder surgery on Plaintiff to repair his rotator cuff tear (AR 92, 97-98). On April 2, 2001, Plaintiff denied any severe depression or suicidal ideation in his session with Ms. Antoun (AR 175). On May 14, 2001, Plaintiff continued to report sleep interruption despite the use of Trazadone (AR 173). An MRI of Plaintiff's shoulder on May 22, 2001 indicated possible supraspinatus tendinitis and the possible necessity of a third exploratory surgery (AR 269, 261). Plaintiff reported a significant amount of discomfort to Dr. Paczkoskie at a follow-up appointment on May 31, 2001 (AR 261).

Plaintiff requested a change of antidepressants on May 24, 2001, but Ms. Antoun reported that Plaintiff was not complying with the antidepressant he had been taking (AR 172). At his June 28, 2001 session, Plaintiff reported increased neck pain and headache episodes and had stopped taking medications that he could not afford, but remained on his Zoloft (AR 170).

On July 13, 2001, Plaintiff reported that he was helping his father and taking his children to activities that they needed to attend. He also reported receiving assistance from a free clinic for his medications (AR 169). In August 2001, Plaintiff indicated that he was more active socially, which removed the heaviness he felt when being isolated, and had lost weight to control his blood sugar (AR 168). Dr. Paczkoskie also indicated that Plaintiff had significant improvement in his shoulder symptoms (AR 254). In September 2001, Plaintiff reported that he drove his wife to her physical therapy sessions, worked in his garden, and helped his father with small projects (AR 167). On October 22, 2001, Plaintiff reported that his pain was at a four out of ten (AR 165).

On November 5, 2001, Dr. Paczkoskie released Plaintiff for light work full-time, indicating that his strength and motion had improved significantly (AR 269, 235). On November 16, 2001, Plaintiff reported that his pain level was at a three out of ten (AR 164). Plaintiff reported that he felt he was capable of medium duty work as far as his tasks, but only "low duty" ability due to his physical limitations (AR 164). On November 30, 2001, Ms. Antoun indicated that Plaintiff had a brightened affect, better posture and had lost more weight (AR 163). Plaintiff indicated that he had played Santa at an event and had discussed adopting a child with disabilities with his wife (AR 163).

On December 27, 2001, Dr. Paczkoskie indicated that he felt Plaintiff was a good light duty candidate, but had tested with a residual functional capacity of medium duty work (AR 235). Dr. Paczkoskie also reported that Plaintiff had good symmetric motion and good strength, but had pain with impingement testing (AR 234). Plaintiff reported that he drove his wife to her part-time job and helped her at that job, and drove his children to activities (AR 162). On February 20, 2002, Plaintiff reported having gone out of town to help his brother with a business venture in Michigan (AR 160).

On February 21, 2002, Plaintiff was seen by Martin Decker, D.O. and reported high blood sugar and constant neck pain and stiffness (AR 282). Plaintiff had previously been diagnosed with cervical facet arthropathy of the neck by Brian Dalton, M.D., a neurosurgeon, but it was indicated that this condition was stable and that Plaintiff would only need to return to Dr. Dalton if surgery were indicated (AR 561, 565). Upon examination, Dr. Decker made no abnormal findings with respect to Plaintiff's neck (AR 284).

On April 18, 2002, Plaintiff continued to report discomfort in his shoulder despite full range of motion and good strength (AR 232). Dr. Paczkoskie recommended a third shoulder surgery to explore residual impingement (AR 232). In May 2002, Plaintiff reported that he was having difficulty carving out time to start and complete the many projects that he wanted to do at his home because he was spending significant time driving his wife around and tending to his children (AR 158).

A third arthroscopic surgery of the shoulder was performed on June 12, 2002 (AR 226-272).*fn2 On July 8, 2002, Plaintiff was released for sedentary work full-time (AR 217). Plaintiff reported a higher level of activity overall, especially out of doors, on the same date (AR 154). On August 12, 2002, Plaintiff reported to his physical therapist that he was able to operate a bulldozer and drive a dump truck (AR 220). He also had full range of motion passively, but pain with rotation (AR 220).

On August 14, 2002, Dr. Decker reported that Plaintiff was complaining of fatigue and ringing in his ears. Dr. Decker noted that Plaintiff's diabetes was stable (AR 286). Plaintiff returned to Dr. Dalton in October 2002 to discuss neck surgery, however, Dr. Dalton indicated that Plaintiff would need to stop using tobacco products for a significant period of time before surgery could be considered (AR 558). At a follow-up appointment for his shoulder on October 17, 2002, Plaintiff exhibited a full range of motion and some residual discomfort due to impingement (AR 216). Dr. Paczkoskie indicated that Plaintiff could perform light work, but would not be capable of returning to full-duty heavy work (AR 216, ...

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