The opinion of the court was delivered by: SIDNEY STEIN, District Judge
Plaintiff Jerry L. Crawn Sr. brings this action pursuant to section
205(g) of the Social Security Act, ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Crawn seeks review of the final decision of Jo Anne B. Barnhart,
Commissioner of Social Security, who previously denied Crawn's
application for Social Security disability insurance ("SSDI") benefits.
Both parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). As set forth below, the Commissioner's
judgment is affirmed because the determination is free of legal error and
is supported by substantial evidence.
Crawn applied for Social Security disability insurance benefits on July
2, 2001, alleging an inability to work since December 9, 2000. (R.
60-62).*fn1 The application was denied initially and Crawn requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALT"). (R. 37-41, 45). On
June 21, 2002, Crawn appeared with counsel at the hearing before ALJ
Dennis G. Katz. (R. 19-36). After a de novo
consideration of the case, Judge Katz issued a decision on August 8,
2002, finding Crawn not disabled because he retained the residual
functional capacity to perform the fall range of light exertion level
work. (R 9-18). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final
decision when, on February 6, 2003, the Social Security Appeals Council
denied Crawn's request for review of the decision of the ALJ. (R3-4).
Crawn was fifty-one years old on the date of the healing. (R60). He
attended school through the 11th grade and worked as an auto mechanic
from March 1985 through October 1999 and then as a self-employed
electrician from October 1999 through December 2000. (R. 74, 81). When
describing his activities as a mechanic, Crawn reported he walked, stood,
sat, climbed, stooped, knelt, crouched, crawled, handled objects, knelt,
occasionally lifted up to 100 pounds and frequently up to 50 pounds
throughout the day, placing the work in the Social Security
category. (R. 83). As an electrician, he reported the same
activities, however only lifting up to 50 pounds "occasionally" and up to
10 pounds "frequently," classifying the work in the Social Security
Administration's "medium" category. (R. 82). Crawn's earnings record
shows earnings in all years from 1978 through 2000. (R. 64, 65).
At the hearing before Judge Katz, Crawn testified as follows. He
stopped working in December 2000 as a result of diarrhea, vomiting,
nausea, headaches and dizziness, furthermore, the medications prescribed
for his symptoms made him lethargic and he subsequently experienced joint
pain. (R. 24, 27, 29). When referred to a rheumatologist, Crawn was
prescribed medications for his joint pain that irritated his colon and
esophagus. (R. 23). Crawn claimed that despite treatment he continues to
experience diarrhea two to three days a week lasting sometimes all day
and accompanied by stomach pains. (R. 26-31). Additionally, Crawn
testified that he suffered from shooting pains in his back, swelling in
his hands and feet, joint pain especially in his shoulder
and constant fatigue. (R. 31-34).
1. Evidence Prior to the Asserted Onset date. December 9,
Dr. Jeffrey Brooks detailed in 1991 that Crawn had received a dozen
endoscopies and colonoscopies over the prior twelve years while under the
care of another gastroenterologist (R. 286). Crawn continued to visit
Brooks throughout the 1990s and in December 1999, Dr. Brooks treated him
for an episode of diverticulitis.*fn2 (R. 137, 259-60, 262, 285-86). By
January 3, 2000, the diverticulitis had subsided and on January 19,
2000, Brooks performed a colonoscopy revealing diverticulosis*fn3,
without evidence of neoplastic disease. (R. 259, 137). Brooks recommended
a high fiber diet avoiding nuts and seeds. (R. 137). On September 20,
2000, Brooks treated Crawn for complaints of nausea and "dry heaves."
Crawn's bowel sounds recorded normal, yet he had tenderness without
hepatosplenomegaly or distension which Brooks judged infectious gastritis
rather than cholecystoses and therefore recommended a low fat diet. (R.
255). Later, Crawn underwent an upper endoscopy and colonoscopy; Brooks
assessed both "negative." Blood tests were normal and Brooks diagnosed
irritable bowel syndrome and recommended medications and a strict
irritable bowel diet. (R. 251).
Following complaints of back pain, Brooks examined Crawn on October 11,
2000. The examination revealed tenderness from T10-T11 vertebrae and
Brooks appraised musculoskeletal back pain with a history of a slipped
lumbar disc twenty-five years earlier; Brooks subsequently adjusted
Crawn's medications. (R. 201). Crawn's abdominal examination was negative
and on October 24, 2000, Brooks reported Crawn's irritable bowel syndrome
to be under "fair control." (R. 200).
2. Evidence During the Period at Issue
a. Gastrointestinal Impairment
On December 14, 2000, when examined by Brooks, Crawn appeared
well-developed and in no acute distress. (R. 199). Dr. Brooks based this
conclusion on the absence of masses, distension or hepatosplenomegaly,
accompanied by negative blood
tests and a non-tender, soft, benign abdomen. (R. 202-05). An
esophagogastro-duodenscopy and biopsy did reveal mild gastritis. (R.
Crawn returned the next month, informing Brooks of stomach pains and
accompanying diarrhea after eating; he denied relief from the medications
and suggested they caused constipation. (R. 198). Brooks' examination
showed a soft and benign stomach, and all test results were negative.
Brooks noted Crawn's stable weight over the prior six years and concluded
irritable bowel syndrome suggesting Crawn "may have to live with it." (R.
Brooks again examined Crawn in February 2001, and noted that he
appeared well-nourished and in no acute distress. (R. 212). Crawn's
abdomen was soft, benign and non-tender. (R. 212). Again, he exhibited no
masses, distension or hepatosplenomegaly and self-reported the
medications were helping control the abdominal cramps. (R. 212). Brooks
concluded the medications were bringing the irritable bowel syndrome
under control and stated, "I told him I'd like him to
start moving on with his life and go back to work once he gets his
fibromyalgia under control." (R. 212).
That summer from July 27-29 Crawn was treated with
intravenous medication at Arden Hill Hospital for a flare-up of
diverticulitis. (R. 193-94, 207-08, 210). Once the symptoms subsided,
Crawn was discharged and was prescribed antibiotic medications. (R.207).
Dr. Lance Siegel, Dr. Brooks' associate, examined Crawn for a follow-up
visit. (R. 209). The patient reported discomfort in the lower quadrants,
denied reflux symptoms and reported having two to three loose bowel
movements per day. (R. 209).
Upon examination, the patient's abdomen was soft with mild
tenderness to deep palpation. (R. 209). Siegel opined the patient showed
healing diverticulitis with no need for further antibiotics. (R.209).
Siegel requested a CT scan of Crawn's pelvis, which revealed marked
improvement of the diverticulitis with minimal residual thickening. (R.
186). Siegel also conducted a colonoscopy in September 2001, which
revealed small polyps, which were subsequently removed, and
diverticulosis, but no evidence of diverticulitis. (R. 183-84). Biopsies
of the sigmoid colon showed "lymphoid aggregate," without significant
abnormality; a biopsy of the ileocecal valve ...