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BRIDGES v. CALLAHAN

September 17, 1998

RICHARD BRIDGES, Plaintiff, against JOHN J. CALLAHAN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SPATT

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

 SPATT, District Judge :

 The plaintiff, Richard Bridges ("Bridges" or the "plaintiff"), commenced this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of a final administrative determination of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying his application for social security disability insurance benefits. The plaintiff challenges the Commissioner's finding that the plaintiff was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act, see 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), and that he is able to perform a substantially full range of sedentary work. The plaintiff and the defendant, John J. Callahan ("Callahan"), the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

 I. BACKGROUND

 A. Procedural History

 Bridges filed an application for Social Security disability benefits on April 25, 1994. (Transcript of Administrative Record ("Tr.") at 50-52, 84-89.) His application was denied, both initially on June 27, 1994, (Tr. at 71-73), and on reconsideration on December 5, 1994. (Tr. at 76-78.) Bridges filed a timely request for a hearing, which was held on September 13, 1995. (Tr. at 29-49.) On September 29, 1995, the Administrative Law Judge (the "ALJ") held that the plaintiff was not under a disability. (Tr. at 14-21.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when, on October 4, 1996, the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. at 3-4.) This appeal followed.

 B. Factual Background

 Bridges was born on November 9, 1945, and has a high school diploma and sixty college credits. (Tr. at 14, 19, 88.) The record reflects that Bridges was a New York City Police Detective for 23 years, until 1989, when he retired with a disability pension. (Tr. at 33-34, 118.) During his 23 years of service with the Police Department, the plaintiff sustained certain injuries to his lower back and to his left knee, including injuries sustained after being struck by a police vehicle while in pursuit of a fleeing felon. (Tr. at 84, 107, 113, 122.)

 In May 1987, the plaintiff was examined by Dr. James Carr, an orthopedic and hand surgeon. (Tr. at 107-11.) An X-ray and CT scan revealed a left-sided herniated disc at L4-5 and a bulging disc at L3-4. (Tr. at 112.) Dr. Carr diagnosed the plaintiff with: multiple level post-traumatic disc disease at L3-S1 with evidence of disc herniation in the L4-L5 and L5-S1 region; radiculopathy of the left lower extremity in the L5-S1 region; and post-traumatic patellofemoral arthritic changes of the knee with meniscal derangement. (Tr. at 107-11.) On October 25, 1988, the plaintiff underwent operative arthroscopy, partial medial menisectomy, interarticular shaving chonropasty, and abrasion arthroplasty. (Tr. at 116-17.)

 On April 12, 1988, Dr. Murray E. Burton conducted an orthopedic examination of the plaintiff. (Tr. at 113-15.) Dr. Burton opined that Bridges was no longer able to fully function as a police officer. (Tr. at 115.)

 In 1989, Bridges appeared before the Medical Board of the Police Pension Fund (the "Medical Board") on three occasions. (Tr. at 118-23.) Initial review of his request was deferred for four months. (Tr. at 122-23.) Upon re-examination and review of supporting documentation, the Medical Board concluded that the evidence did not substantiate a finding of permanent disability but deferred final decision for another four months pending re-examination. (Tr. at 121.) On October 2, 1989, the Medical Board concluded that, along with the new evidence and the plaintiff's prior medical records, Bridges had a permanent disability which would prevent the performance of full police duties, and approved his application for retirement. (Tr. at 119.) The Medical Board found that the plaintiff suffered from an internal derangement of the left knee. (Id.)

 Following his disability retirement, the plaintiff worked as a private investigator and then as a security guard at a cemetery, until July 22, 1993, the date he claims he became totally disabled and unable to work in any capacity. (Tr. at 50, 88, 92-97.)

 The medical evidence after the alleged date of onset of permanent disability begins with an examination on June 9, 1994 by Dr. S. K. Dutta, a Social Security Administration Consultant. (Tr. at 124-125.) The plaintiff complained of persistent back and knee pain. Upon a physical examination, Dr. Dutta found the plaintiff, who stood 73 inches tall and weighed 230 pounds, to be well developed, well nourished, not in acute distress, and walking with a limp on the left side. (Tr. at 124.) Dr. Dutta noted that the plaintiff could stand, walk on his toes and heels, and squat without difficulty. (Tr. at 125.) However, the report does not state as to whether Bridges could sit, stand, or walk for repeated periods for any duration of time.

 Dr. Dutta diagnosed Bridges with osteoarthritic degenerative disc disease of the lumbosacral spine with bulging and herniated discs, and osteoarthritic changes of the left knee, status post meniscectomy. (Tr. at 125.) The doctor further found that flexion and extension of the neck were limited to 20 degrees and that lateral rotation, which was performed to 35 degrees, was normal. The plaintiff had a full range of motion of the shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Wrist manipulation was normal. Straight leg raising was positive at 70 degrees bilaterally. Neurological examination of the lower extremities was unremarkable. With the exception of flexion of the left knee, which was limited to 90 degrees and painful, the range of motion of the knees and ankles was normal. Examination of the lumbosacral spine disclosed slight tenderness and moderate paraspinal muscle spasm with limitation of flexion and lateral bending/extension to 75 and 20 degrees, respectively. Based upon the results of his examination, Dr. Dutta concluded that the overall prognosis was unlikely to improve significantly and might deteriorate with time. (Tr. at 124-125.)

 In addition, on June 9, 1994, Dr. H. Heimowitx, a radiologist and another Social Security Administration Consultant, observed the disc space narrowing at L4-L5 and L5-S1 of the plaintiff's lumbosacral spine. Examination of Bridge's left knee revealed neither acute fracture, dislocation, or effusion. However, the possibility of a loose body within the left knee joint could not be ruled out. (Tr. at 126.)

 In August 1994, the plaintiff began treatment with Dr. Martin A. Lehman, an orthopedic surgeon. (Tr. at 104.) On August 23, 1994, upon the request of Dr. Lehman, Bridges underwent a Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan ("MRI") of the lumbar spine. (Tr. at 131.) The MRI disclosed the presence of a small herniated disc at L4-L5 on the left side, predominantly involving the left neural foramen, degenerative disc disease from L3 to S1, and a Schmorl node involving L4. (Id.)

 On September 12, 1994, Dr. Lehman performed another physical on the plaintiff, which revealed lumbosacral spine tenderness and muscle spasms. (Tr. at 129.) Flexion was restricted to 40 degrees; extension and lateral bending was limited to 30 degrees on the left, and 30 degrees on the right. Straight leg raising was positive to 30 degrees on the left, and 50 degrees on the right. Hypalgesia was experienced throughout the left thigh and leg. Dr. Lehman noted a slight depression of the left ankle jerk, but otherwise, motor strength was intact. (Tr. at 129.)

 Dr. Lehman's examination of the plaintiff's left knee revealed tenderness around the patella and medial joint line. The range of motion extended from zero to 105 degrees with pain on flexion and rotation. There was some pain on grinding, but no overt instability. (Id.)

 Dr. Lehman concluded that the plaintiff experienced acute and chronic acute recurrent sprain of the lumbosacral spine with radiculitis and nerve root irritation, along with a history of herniated discs in the left lower extremity. Additionally, status post arthroscopic surgery arthritic changes and synovitis were present in the left knee. (Id.) Dr. Lehman recommended conservative treatment along with pain killers and restricted activity, and advised MRI studies of the lumbar spine and an orthopedic follow-up. (Id.) He further noted that at his last visit, the plaintiff was "markedly symptomatic" and unable to work. (Tr. at 130.)

 On October 1, 1994, the plaintiff underwent an MRI of the cervical spine and cord. (Tr. at 134.) The MRI revealed bulging discs at C4-C5 and C5-C6, narrowing of the neural foramina at C5-C6 on both sides, but greater on the left, and degenerative facet disease at C4-C5 and C5-C6 on the left side. (Id.)

 On November 4, 1994, September 12, 1995, and July 22, 1996, Dr. Lehman drafted updated reports, which do not reflect any change in the plaintiff's condition. (Tr. at 127-28, 132-33, 139-40.) All three reports indicate that Bridges continues to sustain marked and significant disabilities and limitations causally related to the on-the-job injury sustained while he was a police detective. Dr. Lehman further opined that the plaintiff's disabilities and limitations are permanent in nature due to the marked restriction in use of the cervical spine in both fine and gross motor coordination, and due to his inability to: do any squatting, bending, climbing; sit or stand for more than 10 to 15 minutes; and walk more than one block, and his ability to carry only 5 to 7 pounds. Dr. Lehman concluded that he saw no prospects for Bridges to be able to work in the future. (Tr. at 128, 133, 140.)

 In November 1994, Social Security Administration Consultant Dr. Gowd diagnosed the plaintiff with discogenic disease of the cervical and lumbosacral spine, and noted that he could occasionally lift 20 pounds; frequently lift 10 pounds; stand, walk, or sit at least 6 hours in an 8-hour work day, but that push and pull was limited in the lower extremities and that he experienced occasional limitations with respect to climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. (Tr. at 53-62.) Dr. Gowd concluded that Bridges was capable of performing light work. (Tr. at ...


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