The opinion of the court was delivered by: Davis Stewart Cercone United States District Judge
Keith L. Moore ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381 - 1383f ("Act"). This matter comes before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment filed by the parties pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. Nos. 7, 10). The record has been developed at the administrative level. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment will be DENIED; Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be GRANTED; and, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, David Hatfield ("ALJ"), will be AFFIRMED.
Plaintiff filed for DIB and SSI with the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on May 23, 2005, claiming an inability to work due to disability as of May 1, 2003. (R. at 53 - 55, 553 - 58).*fn1 Plaintiff was initially denied benefits by the SSA on September 23, 2005. (R. at 49 - 52). Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge on November 21, 2005.
(R. at 33). A hearing was held on May 21, 2007, at which Plaintiff , represented by counsel, testified before the ALJ. (R. at 26, 624). A vocational expert, Karen Krull, also testified. (R. at 624). The ALJ issued his decision denying benefits to Plaintiff on July 19, 2007. (R. at 14 - 25). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which request was denied on July 31, 2009, thereby making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. at 6 - 8).
Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this Court seeking review of the ALJ's decision on October 7, 2009. Defendant filed his Answer on December 11, 2009. Cross motions for summary judgment followed.
III. STATEMENT OF THE CASE
Plaintiff was born December 19, 1961, and was forty five years of age at the time of his administrative hearing. (R. at 628). He had a high school education, and had served in the United States Army as a heavy equipment operator for a little over three years. (R. at 631). Plaintiff was residing with his mother, as he had been during the disputed period of disability, and was unemployed. (R. at 629). Plaintiff received medical benefits from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (R. at 630).
Plaintiff's work history included a stint as a maintenance man at a local foundry from 1990 until 1996. (R. at 64). The job required technical knowledge and the use of machines, tools, and other equipment. (R. at 65). Plaintiff was typically on his feet for eight hours a day, and frequently walked, climbed, stooped, crouched, handled large and small objects, and lifted up to fifty pounds at a time. (R. at 65). From August of 1997 until September of 2003, Plaintiff worked as a detailer at a car dealership. (R. at 64). Detailing required technical knowledge and the use of machines, tools, and other equipment. (R. at 79). Plaintiff walked approximately eight hours a day, frequently stooping, reaching, and handling objects. (R. at 79). Plaintiff typically lifted between ten and fifteen pounds when carrying five gallon water buckets. (R. at 79). Finally, from July of 2004 until October of 2004, Plaintiff worked as a packer at a paper supply company. (R. at 64). There Plaintiff counted and wrapped paper, and stacked the paper on shelves. (R. at 81). Plaintiff was on his feet for approximately eight hours a day, and had to write, type, or handle small objects. (R. at 81). Plaintiff frequently lifted ten pounds everyday when stacking paper. (R. at 81).
Plaintiff sustained a right knee injury while wrestling in 1981. (R. at 176). Despite an early surgery, the condition of Plaintiff's right knee continued to worsen over the years. By the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff claimed he was unable to use stairs without a railing, and could not walk more than one hundred yards without cramping and weakness in his knee. (R. at 89). Plaintiff claimed he could sit for approximately fifteen minutes before he had to stand due to numbness and muscle spasms in his leg. (R. at 89). Plaintiff claimed he could carry up to twenty pounds, but not far, due to weakness. (R. at 89). Plaintiff needed to plan ahead to take the easiest path available when walking. (R. at 91).
Medical records indicated that as early as December 20, 2001, Plaintiff was diagnosed with severe degenerative joint disease, and was a candidate for knee replacement. (R. at 176). Plaintiff exhibited weakness in the right foot and numbness. (R. at 176). His knee had significant bony prominences and a trace effusion. (R. at 176). The knee did not fully extend, and Plaintiff experienced painful patellofemoral grind. (R. at 176). An x-ray showed marked medial compartmental disease and some patellofemoral disease. (R. at 176). A knee replacement was not considered an option at the time due to Plaintiff's age; instead, Plaintiff received injections to relieve pain and a knee brace for support. (R. at 176). Plaintiff's right leg was tested for vascular disorders November 1, 2001, due to the presence of swelling and pain. (R. at 187). No vascular causes were found. (R. at 187). Further examinations in 2002 yielded similar results indicating severe degeneration of the right knee. (R. at 175, 184 - 86).
Plaintiff began seeing Leonard B. Zadecky, M.D. on March 5, 2004. (R. at 123). Plaintiff was observed wearing a brace on his right knee, and walking with a limp as a result of Plaintiff locking his right knee to maintain stability. (R. at 123). Dr. Zadecky noted that Plaintiff also had a former problem with alcohol abuse, a continuing smoking habit, and problematic hypertension.
(R. at 123). At a follow-up appointment several days later, Dr. Zadecky reviewed a magnetic resonance image ("MRI") of Plaintiff's right knee, and noted severe degenerative changes in the medial and lateral joint spaces, moderate narrowing of the patellofemoral joint, subluxation of the tibia in relation to the distal femur, and multiple calcified loose bodies in the joint space. (R. at 122). There was also evidence of chronic tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament, and tears in the medial meniscus, and anterior and posterior horns of the lateral meniscus. (R. at 122). Knee replacement was thought to be Plaintiff's best option, despite his young age. (R. at 121).
Peter Tang, M.D. examined Plaintiff on May 13, 2004, and noted that x-rays of Plaintiff's left knee showed severe osteoarthritis and soft tissue calcification consistent with synovial chondromatosis. Plaintiff exhibited tricompartmental arthritis, and was bone on bone in the medial compartment of the right knee. (R. at 119). An MRI confirmed the x-ray findings. (R. at 119). Dr. Tang noted that Plaintiff would have to endure the pain with more conservative treatments until an eventual total knee replacement. (R. at 119).
Plaintiff was noted as walking with a bad limp by Dr. Zadecky on July 8, 2004. (R. at 117). Plaintiff's swelling of the right knee had decreased since he began using the brace and received steroid injections. (R. at 117). Knee replacement, while still the best treatment for Plaintiff's condition, was still being put off because of his young age. (R. at 117).
Throughout the course of his treatment by Dr. Zadecky and other physicians for knee pain, objective medical findings remained largely unchanged. (R. at 211, 295 - 97, 324 - 33, 397 - 404). However, Plaintiff maintained that, while wearing his knee brace, he had not fallen and was relatively stable. (R. at 296). By May 23, 2006, Plaintiff was determined by orthopedic doctor Adam Shimer, M.D. to have end-stage tricompartmental disease, with chronic instability and unrelenting pain. (R. at 535). Dr. Shimer's review of an MRI of Plaintiff's right knee on June 27, 2006, showed a chronically posteriorly subluxed femur and "horrible" tricompartmental arthritis with a large number of osteophytes and loose bodies in the posterior knee. (R. at 526).
Plaintiff finally had the knee replacement. (R. at 523 - 25). Victor Prisk, M.D. performed a right total knee arthroplasty on July 28, 2006. (R. at 543 - 50). By August 4, 2006, Plaintiff was able to walk with the assistance of a walker. (R. at 416). Plaintiff was discharged the same day. (R. at 372). Plaintiff was allowed to do weight bearing, as tolerated, and was to avoid heavy lifting. (R. at 374). Twelve days following his surgery, Plaintiff was noted as doing very well.
(R. at 414). By September 21, 2006, Plaintiff was able to ambulate without pain, his pain in general was minimal, and he intended to return to work the following day. (R. at 412).
In August of 1993, Plaintiff was found to have a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder as a result of a motorcycle accident. (R. at 143, 179). He had significant pain, and was unable to actively flex or abduct his shoulder. (R. at 180). Plaintiff's shoulder was surgically repaired that September. (R. at 181). Even after the surgery, however, Plaintiff experienced pain and inability to fully use his right shoulder. (R. at 178). In December of 1993, Plaintiff was instructed that he was not to lift more than ten pounds, and that he was not to lift objects above his waist. (R. at 178). By January of 1994, Plaintiff was informed by his treating physician that despite continuing difficulty with his right shoulder, he was released to do all types of lifting. (R. at 177). In June of 1994, Plaintiff's right shoulder strength was much improved and he requested to be returned to unrestricted duty at his place of ...