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Billings v. Commissioner of Social Security

August 20, 2008

ROBERT L. BILLINGS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



DECISION AND ORDER

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff Robert L. Billings ("Plaintiff") filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on April 22, 2004. Administrative Transcript ("AT") 43-45, 176-78. The applications were denied initially. AT 32, 175. A request was made for a hearing. AT 37. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge on March 14, 2005. AT 195-212. In a decision dated August 24, 2005, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is not disabled. AT 8-18. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 29, 2005. AT 4-7. Plaintiff commenced this action on January 11, 2006 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision. Dkt. No. 1.

B. Contentions

Plaintiff makes the following claims:

(1) The Commissioner failed to properly evaluate the medical opinions of record. Dkt. No. 6 at 10-15.

(2) The Commissioner failed to properly determine Plaintiff's residual functional capacity. Dkt. No. 6 at 15-16.

(3) There is no substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's conclusion that there is significant work in the national or regional economies that Plaintiff could perform. Dkt. No. 6 at 17-18.

(4) The ALJ failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's credibility. Dkt. No. 6 at 18-20. Defendant argues that the Commissioner's determination is supported by substantial evidence in the record, and must be affirmed. Dkt. No. 8.

C. Facts

Plaintiff was thirty-three years old at the time of the hearing. AT 43, 195. Plaintiff received his high school equivalency diploma. AT 63. Plaintiff's past work experience includes working as a drywall laborer, pool cleaner, general laborer, and mover/driver. AT 58, 199-201. Plaintiff alleges that he became unable to work on October 1, 1999. AT 43, 176. Plaintiff alleges disability due to knee problems. AT 57. Plaintiff also injured his left shoulder. AT 211.

1. Knees

a. D. Peter Van Eenenaam, M.D.

From September 30, 1998 to May 5, 2004, Plaintiff treated with D. Peter Van Eenenaam, M.D., an orthopaedist. AT 120-21, 145-59. Dr. Van Eenenaam noted that on September 28, 1998, Plaintiff injured his left knee "when he jumped up on a moving truck and felt a hyperextension[-]type injury to his knee and felt something pop inside his knee." AT 158. He also noted that Plaintiff previously had ACL reconstruction on his right knee. Id. Dr. Van Eenenaam diagnosed Plaintiff as suffering from a left knee internal derangement, possible medial meniscus tear, and possible anterior cruciate ligament tear. AT 159.

In February of 1999, Plaintiff underwent an ACL reconstruction on his left knee. AT 156. Plaintiff responded well, although he was later diagnosed as suffering from a cyst on the back of his left knee. AT 153, 154.

An MRI of Plaintiff's left knee performed on December 20, 1999 showed status-post ACL reconstruction with expected postoperative changes; an intact patellar tendon; early osteoarthritis in the medial compartment; but no meniscal tear. AT 164.

In March or April of 2000, Plaintiff underwent a left knee diagnostic arthroscopy, debridement, and limited chondroplasty. AT 153. Post-operatively, Plaintiff was doing "very well." Id. However, Plaintiff subsequently experienced pain and swelling in his left knee. AT 152. Dr. Van Eenenaam determined that Plaintiff suffered from degenerative arthritis in his left knee and a possible meniscus tear. Id.

An MRI of Plaintiff's left knee performed on October 12, 2001, showed, inter alia, postoperative changes in the anterior horn of the medial meniscus and a question of a meniscal capsular injury posteriorly; a small loose body or fibrous material filling in a chondral defect in the medial femoral condyle; a meniscal cyst posterior to the medial femoral condyle with associated femoral condyle and tibial plateau bruises. AT 161.

In early December of 2001, Plaintiff underwent an arthroscopy on his left knee. AT 151. Debridement for cartilage lesions was performed. Id. On February 13, 2002, Plaintiff was "doing much better." AT 150. Plaintiff was treated with medications, Synvisc injections, and a knee brace. AT 145-47.

On February 18, 2003, Dr. Van Eenenaam opined that Plaintiff has a permanent partial disability of a mild degree and should not perform excessive squatting, bending, or lifting. AT 149.

On March 30, 2005, Dr. Van Eenenaam completed an interrogatory regarding Plaintiff's symptoms ("March 2005 opinion"). AT 120-21. Dr. Van Eenenaam indicated the following: If Plaintiff were older, due to his chronic pain, he would be an appropriate candidate for right and left knee replacements; Plaintiff's pain increases if he sits too long, stands too long, or walks too far; Plaintiff needs to elevate his legs for a substantial period of time throughout the day; Plaintiff needs to apply heat to his knees approximately three times each day for fifteen to thirty minutes to help reduce his pain; Plaintiff needs to apply ice to his knees approximately two times each day for approximately twenty minutes each time to help reduce swelling; Plaintiff's knees can "give out" at unpredictable times; and Plaintiff does not sleep well as the result of pain in his knees. Id.

b. Charles Moehs, M.D.

On June 29, 2004, Plaintiff was examined by Charles Moehs, M.D. AT 169-72. On examination, Plaintiff exhibited a decreased range of motion of both knees. AT 170. Dr. Moehs diagnosed Plaintiff as suffering from a history of bilateral ACL ...


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