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Birtig v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 23, 2014

LESLIE BIRTIG, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NORA BARRY FISCHER, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Leslie Birtig ("Plaintiff"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. (the "Act").[1] This matter comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF Nos. 7, 9). The record has been developed at the administrative level. (ECF No. 5).[2] For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 7) is denied and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 9) is granted.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed her application on March 4, 2011 claiming disability since June 2, 2003 due to degenerative joint disease, anxiety, chronic migraines, diabetes, arthritis, spinal stenosis, osteoporosis, asthma, balance problems, hearing problems in her right ear, and depression. (R. at 54-55, 162). Her application was denied (R. at 69-73), and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (R. at 74-75). A hearing was held on September 12, 2012, wherein Plaintiff appeared and testified, and Samuel Edelmann, an impartial vocational expert, also appeared and testified. (R. at 26-53). On October 16, 2012 the ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits. (R. at 12-21). Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Council was denied (R. at 1-6), rendering the Commissioner's decision final under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). She filed her complaint challenging the ALJ's decision on May 2, 2014 (ECF No. 1), and the parties subsequently filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 7, 9). Accordingly, the matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

III. BACKGROUND

A. General Background

Plaintiff was fifty-five years old on her alleged onset date and sixty-one years old on her date last insured. (R. at 54). She is a college graduate, and has certificates in Human Resource Management and Nursing Home Administration. (R. at 32, 163). Plaintiff worked as the Development Director at a radio station, a Unit Clerk/Activities Assistant at a nursing home, and as the Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Zoo. (R. at 40-45, 64).

B. Medical Background [3]

Knee impairment

Plaintiff was treated by Eric Nabors, M.D. for her various musculoskeletal complaints. An MRI of Plaintiff's right knee dated January 14, 2005 revealed findings compatible with a lateral meniscus tear and some joint effusion. (R. at 434). A bone scan dated July 1, 2005 revealed increased activity in the knees, consistent with degenerative change or arthritis. (R. at 439). Plaintiff had arthroscopic surgery of her right knee in 2005, and on January 23, 2006, Dr. Nabors found Plaintiff had some swelling and diffuse tenderness on examination. (R. at 569). Plaintiff subsequently underwent Synvisc injections, and by May 2006 she reported to Dr. Nabors that her knee felt "quite good" and she had no pain. (R. at 556, 567). Physical examination revealed moderate misalignment of her right knee, and she exhibited full motion on extension and 130 degrees on flexion. (R. at 556). X-rays showed bone-on-bone changes at the lateral compartment, but Dr. Nabors reported Plaintiff was only mildly symptomatic and knee replacement was not justified. (R. at 556).

In January 2008, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Nabors and complained of right knee pain that interfered with her daily activities. (R. at 401). She informed Dr. Nabors that she wanted to undergo a total knee replacement. (R. at 401). On physical examination, Dr. Nabors reported that Plaintiff walked with a valgus deformity, flexed to approximately 130 degrees, and lacked the last several degrees on full extension. (R. at 401). She had no ligamentous laxity to varus stress, and she was neurologically intact in the lower extremities. (R. at 401). Plaintiff subsequently underwent total right knee replacement surgery and tolerated the procedure well. (R. at 418-419). Upon examination in March 2008, Plaintiff exhibited a good range of motion and had minimal pain. (R. at 516). When seen on January 13, 2009, Dr. Nabors reported that Plaintiff had done well following knee replacement surgery until she fell on her knee two weeks prior. (R. at 508). Plaintiff had no trouble walking and her pain was improving. (R. at 508). On physical examination, Dr. Nabors reported that Plaintiff had normal posture and walked with a normal gait. (R. at 508). She had some mild tenderness to palpation, but no laxity to varus, valgus, anterior or posterior stressing. (R. at 508). She was able to flex to 130 to 140 degrees and extend to neutral. (R. at 508). Dr. Nabors diagnosed Plaintiff with lateral knee sprain with no instability following knee replacement, and found nothing to suggest any ligament disruption, tenderness, rupture or fracture. (R. at 508). He stated Plaintiff's injury would heal spontaneously and no further evaluation or treatment was required. (R. at 508).

Hip impairment

Plaintiff's bone scan dated July 1, 2005 showed moderate intense activity in the left hip consistent with degenerative change or arthritis. (R. at 439). On February 27, 2007, Plaintiff complained of left hip and groin pain and was walking with a cane. (R. at 567). Dr. Nabors reported that her x-rays revealed a complete loss of articular cartilage of the left hip which had markedly increased since May 2005. (R. at 567). Physical examination showed a limited range of motion of her hip with no internal rotation, external rotation of 20, flexion of 90 and extension minus 15. (R. at 567). Plaintiff subsequently underwent a total left hip replacement on March 30, 2006. (R. at 388-389). At her follow-up visit with Dr. Nabors on April 28, 2006, Plaintiff reported that she was "quite pleased" with the results and was pain free. (R. at 558). On physical examination, Dr. Nabors reported that Plaintiff walked without a limp and used a walker, but was able to walk without the walker, and her leg lengths were equal. (R. at 558). Plaintiff's x-rays revealed that her hip components were in "excellent position", and Dr. Nabors reported that Plaintiff had "done well" with surgery and was not experiencing "any problems." (R. at 558). When seen by Dr. Nabors on May 30, 2006, Plaintiff reported some mild lateral tenderness, but her preoperative pain was gone and she was "quite pleased." (R. at 556). Physical examination revealed mild tenderness, but no pain with active or passive range of motion, and her leg lengths were equal. (R. at 556). Dr. Nabors found she was "doing quite well", and stated she could discontinue her cane usage and post-operative precautions. (R. at 556). He indicated that Plaintiff should try and avoid internal rotation. (R. at 556). On June 26, 2006, Plaintiff complained of left hip pain after falling off a chair. (R. at 554). Dr. Nabors reported that Plaintiff had a left hip bruise but there was no evidence of injury to her hip replacement. (R. at 554).

On February 12, 2007, Plaintiff reported to Dr. Nabors that she continued to do well following her hip replacement surgery but had recently fallen on her left hip after a piece of luggage fell on her. (R. at 543). Plaintiff complained of pain in her left buttock and thigh, but x-rays revealed no injuries or abnormalities. (R. at 543). On physical examination, Dr. Nabors reported that Plaintiff had no pain on range of motion testing, but had moderate tenderness to palpation of her lateral hip. (R. at 543). No bruising or swelling was found, and her lower extremities were neurologically intact to motor testing. (R. at 543). She was diagnosed with contusion and anti-inflammatory medication was recommended. (R. at 543). At her one year follow-up for evaluation of her left hip, Dr. Nabors reported that Plaintiff had no complaints or pain, and was "happy" with the results of her surgery. (R. at 537). On physical examination, Plaintiff walked with a normal posture and gait, she had no pain with range of motion of her hip, and her leg lengths were normal. (R. at 537). X-rays revealed no abnormalities, and Dr. Nabors reported that Plaintiff was "doing well from her surgery." (R. at 537). When seen by Dr. Nabors for knee complaints in January 2008, he reported that Plaintiff had "done quite well" following hip replacement surgery. (R. at 401). On August 4, 2008, Plaintiff returned to Dr. Nabors and complained of left hip pain, but stated it was ...


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