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Ethan Webb v. Michael J. Astrue

November 4, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer



Ethan Webb ("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 her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 -- 1383f ("Act"). This matter comes before the court on cross motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 7, 9). The record has been developed at the administrative level. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.


Plaintiff filed for SSI with the Social Security Administration on April 24, 2007, claiming an inability to work due to disability as of January 4, 2005. (R. at 84)*fn1 . Plaintiff was initially denied benefits on August 28, 2007. (R. at 41 -- 49). A hearing was scheduled for April 17, 2009, and Plaintiff appeared to testify represented by counsel. (R. at 19 -- 38). A vocational expert, Fred A. Monaco, also testified. (R. at 19 -- 38). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), James Bukes, issued his decision denying benefits to Plaintiff on July 21, 2009. (R. at 7 -- 18). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which request was denied on March 29, 2011, thereby making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. at 1 -- 5).

Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this court on June 1, 2011. (ECF No. 3). Defendant filed his Answer on August 16, 2011. (ECF No. 4). Cross motions for summary judgment followed. (ECF Nos. 7, 9).


A. General Background

Plaintiff was born January 5, 1964 and was forty five years of age*fn2 at the time of his administrative hearing. (R. at 23). Plaintiff completed high school, but had no post-secondary education or vocational training. (R. at 23). Past employment included stints as a landscaper and a security guard. (R. at 23 -- 24). Plaintiff also provided care for his mother until her passing in May of 2008. (R. at 30).

When he applied for benefits in 2007, Plaintiff lived in an apartment. (R. at 122 -- 31). Despite difficulties with standing, sitting, and walking attributable to leg and shoulder pain, Plaintiff prepared simple meals, cleaned, traveled independently, bought groceries, spent time with friends, and attended sporting events. (R. at 122 -- 31). He claimed that his physical limitations prevented him from engaging in full-time employment, however. (R. at 122 -- 31). Plaintiff had not worked since 2005. (R. at 24).

B. Medical History

Plaintiff was treated by Pittsburgh Bone & Joint Surgeons of McKeesport, Pennsylvania beginning with an injury to his left foot in 2001 while working. (R. at 222, 232 -- 34). Several bones were broken, but by September of 2001, his foot was healing well. (R. at 222). This improvement continued through January 2002. (R. at 214 -- 16, 218, 233 -- 34). Plaintiff was cleared for his return to work as of January 7, 2002. (R. at 212 -- 13).

Plaintiff reported to the emergency room complaining of left hip pain in January of 2006.

(R. at 197). Diagnostic imagining at UPMC McKeesport Hospital ("UPMC") showed that Plaintiff's hip and hip joint areas were normal. (R. at 197). In March of 2006, Plaintiff also went to Pittsburgh Bone & Joint Surgeons complaining of the same left hip and leg pain. (R. at 194). The examining physician noted that while there was some mild atrophy of the left thigh, Plaintiff's range of motion was good, his reflexes were intact, and diagnostic imaging was unremarkable. (R. at 194). Plaintiff was diagnosed with lumbar radiculopathy*fn3 . (R. at 194). He was given Vicodin for his pain. (R. at 194). Plaintiff's primary care physician Harry E. Lanauze, M.D. completed an Employability Assessment Form, indicating that Plaintiff was temporarily disabled from January 4, 2006 through September 4, 2006 due to leg pain. (R. at 195 -- 96).

Plaintiff appeared in the UPMC emergency department in August of 2007 complaining of right knee pain and difficulty walking. (R. at 295). Plaintiff complained that he had been experiencing knee pain for nearly six months, and that the pain had intensified over the previous week. (R. at 295). Plaintiff was found to be in no acute distress, and had slight tenderness in his right knee, but had no swelling, crepitus*fn4 , limitation of movement, redness, or calf tenderness.

(R. at 296). Diagnostic imaging showed slight narrowing of the lateral knee compartment, and degenerative joint disease*fn5 . (R. at 294). Plaintiff was given a prescription for Vicodin and was advised to see his doctor. (R. at 296).

Plaintiff was seen at Pittsburgh Bone & Joint Surgeons shortly thereafter. (R. at 210). The examining physician noted that Plaintiff had on-and-off knee pain for some time. (R. at 210). Plaintiff asserted that his lumbar radiculopathy had caused him to walk awkwardly, creating his knee condition. (R. at 210). The physician observed mild effusion*fn6 , tenderness, and mild grating; however, testing was negative for abnormality, and there was no evidence of instability. (R. at 210). Diagnostic imaging showed some lateral compartment narrowing of the right knee. (R. at 210). Plaintiff was diagnosed with degenerative joint disease and was given an injection of lidocaine for pain. (R. at 210). In September, Dr. Lanauze ...

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