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BROWN v. HALTER

March 29, 2001

RICARD BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLIAM A. HALTER[FN1], COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nolan, Magistrate Judge.

  MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This is an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Ricard Brown's claim for social security disability insurance benefits. This matter is before the Court on the parties' Cross Motions for Summary Judgment. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons explained below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Mr. Brown filed an application for disability insurance benefits on March 12, 1996 alleging that he became disabled on June 2, 1994 as a result of a motor vehicle accident. (R. 179-81.) His claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. 79-91.) On November 6, 1997, Mr. Brown appeared with counsel and testified at an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Lyle Lipe. (R. 29-78.) Randall Strahl testified as a vocational expert. (Id.) On February 13, 1998, ALJ Lipe issued a decision finding that Mr. Brown was not disabled because he could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (R. 16-27.) On February 25, 1998, Mr. Brown filed a Request for Review. (R. 13.) The Appeals Council denied Mr. Brown's Request for Review, on September 20, 1998, leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 9.)

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Background

Mr. Brown was born on September 14, 1961 and was thirty-six years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 106.) Mr. Brown has a high school education and his most recent employment, from 1987 to 1994, was as a truck driver. (R. 139.) Prior to working as a truck driver, Mr. Brown worked as a stockman, and before that he was in the United States Army. (Id.)

B. Medical Evidence and Testimony

1. Medical Evidence

On June 2, 1994, Mr. Brown was in an accident in his truck, and was admitted to the hospital complaining of chest, abdominal, neck, and lower leg pain. (R. 179.) The x-rays did not show there to be any acute injuries to Mr. Brown, however the x-ray of his lower back did indicate some degeneration of two intervertebral discs. (R. 182-84, 186.) Computerized tomography (CT) scans of Mr. Brown's abdomen and cervical spine did not exhibit any substantial abnormalities. (R. 185.)

On June 7, 1994, Dr. Reddy*fn2 examined Mr. Brown for the cause of his complaints of pain in various parts of his body. (R. 293.) Dr. Reddy diagnosed Mr. Brown with a sprained dorsal and lumbosacral spine, contusions and abrasions and possible internal derangement of the right knee, a sprained left ankle, and contusions on the left leg. (R. 294.) On July 5, 1994 a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of Mr. Brown's right knee indicated minimal joint effusion and no other abnormalities. (R. 299.) An MRI scan of Mr. Brown's lumbar spine, taken August 22, 1994, indicated a small, right-sided disc herniation at L5-S1. (R. 192.)

On November 9, 1994, Mr. Brown was examined at Hinsdale Orthopedic Associates because of right-sided flank pain which radiated down to his lower extremities. (R. 194.) This examination indicated that Mr. Brown was able to sit comfortably, and that he was able to walk unaided by his crutch without a limp. (Id.) There was no evidence of fasciculation or atrophy in the upper or lower extremities. (Id.) He had normal motor power, and there was no evidence of ulceration or injury in the lower extremity. (Id.) The flexation and extension x-ray showed excellent alignment of the vertebra with no abnormalities or slippage. (Id.) Dr. Reddy also noted the Mr. Brown brought with him a previous MRI which showed excellent disc hydration in all discs except for L5 which showed early mild degenerative changes, but no disc herniation, no root impingement, and no stenosis. (Id.) The doctor summarized the MRI as "normal." (Id.) Mr. Brown complained of pain in his right knee, however, the examination did not reveal any abnormalities. (R. 195.)

Mr. Brown was diagnosed with a contusion of the back, and no surgical intervention was recommended based upon the normal examination and normal evaluation. (R. 195.) The doctor recommended that Mr. Brown engage in a work-hardening program for two weeks and then return to his regular job duties with no restrictions. (Id.) The doctor noted at the end of his report that Mr. Brown became "quite hostile" when told the MRI had revealed no disc herniation and requested that the MRI be reviewed in his presence. (Id.)

On December 8, 1994, Dr. Reddy indicated in a letter that Mr. Brown had a very small right-sided herniated disc which was improving with physical therapy. (R. 308.) He recommended continued physical therapy for his back. (Id.) The letter notes that Mr. Brown was continuing to have problems with his right knee. (Id.) The examination indicated constant clicking over the patellofemoral joint, range of motion about forty degrees of flexion, a thickened tender synovial band along the medial parapatellar region, and weak quadricep power. (Id.) The MRI on the right knee was negative, however, the letter notes that an MRI might not show some of the problems which would be picked up by arthroscopy of the knee. (Id.) He recommended arthroscopic surgery of the right knee as soon as possible, (R. 309.), and, on February 16, 1995, Dr. Reddy performed arthroscopic surgery on Mr. Brown's right knee. (R. 290-91.)

In early April 1995, Mr. Brown underwent a functional capacity evaluation to assess his ability to come back to work. (R. 196-218.) The rehabilitation specialist, Nancy Sons, found that Mr. Brown would be able to tolerate the work hardening program easily. (R. 196.) She found that his evaluation was performed in an exaggerated manner with high pain reports, non-anatomical pain drawings, and very exaggerated pain behaviors and postures. (Id.) She found his lifting capacity to be below light physical demands, but that he could "certainly upgrade to a greater lifting capacity and certainly a higher level of physical fitness without causing any injury to himself." (Id.)

On July 10, 1995, Mr. Brown was admitted to South Suburban Hospital with complaints of lower back pain. (R. 224.) Dr. Patrick Sweeney, an orthopedic surgeon, performed surgery on Mr. Brown's back, and the diagnosis was discogenic pain in L4-5, L5, and S1, and central disc herniation in L5-S1. (R. 256-59.)

On February 6, 1996, Mr. Brown underwent another functional capacity assessment to determine his work level capabilities. (R. 261-69.) Sue Arends, a physical therapist, conducted the evaluation, and found that the results accurately reflected Mr. Brown's capabilities. (R. 261.) During the assessment, Mr. Brown demonstrated the ability to lift in the light work category at the above the shoulder and desk chair levels. (Id.) He was unable to perform a chair/floor lift. (Id.) He was able to crawl and kneel, but the assessment recommended that he only perform those activities on an occasional basis. (Id.) He demonstrated a forty-five minute sitting tolerance, and a sixty minute standing tolerance. (Id.) He did not demonstrate any difficulties with walking. (Id.) The assessment recommended that Mr. Brown perform work in the light work category at the above shoulder and desk/chair levels only. (R. 262.) Sitting and standing durations should be limited to forty-five and sixty minute durations respectively. (Id.) Dr. Sweeney released Mr. Brown to work on February 12, 1996, pursuant to the restrictions in the February 5, 1996 functional capacity evaluation. (R. 260.)

On April 17, 1996, Dr. Sweeney reported to the Bureau of Disability Determination Services that Mr. Brown could walk unassisted and that he had slightly reduced range of motion in his lumbosacral spine. (R. 316-17) He also indicated in his report that Mr. Brown could sit for periods of forty-five minutes, stand for periods of sixty minutes, lift twenty pounds or less, ...


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