United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM E. CASSADY, Magistrate Judge.
The Plaintiff brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claims for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Doc. 22 ("In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, ... order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings."); see also Doc. 24 (order of reference).) Upon consideration of the administrative record ("R.") (doc. 13), the Plaintiff's brief (doc. 14), the Commissioner's brief (doc. 16), and the arguments presented at the November 21, 2013 hearing, it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should be affirmed.
I. Procedural Background
On or around September 21, 2010, the Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI (R. 122-130), alleging disability relating to a left knee injury that occurred on January 30, 2009, and required a left total knee replacement ( see R. 62-63, 122, 126). His application was initially denied on February 3, 2011 (R. 64-66). A hearing was then conducted before an Administrative Law Judge on March 23, 2012. (R. 35-61). On May 16, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that the claimant was not disabled (R. 20-31), and, on October 24, 2012, the Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council (R. 12-13). On December 20, 2012, the Appeals Council issued a decision declining to review the ALJ's decision. (R. 1-3.) Therefore, the ALJ's determination was the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. The Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court on January 24, 2013. (Doc. 1.)
II. Standard of Review and Claims on Appeal
In all Social Security cases, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that he or she is unable to perform his or her previous work. Jones v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1001, 1005 (11th Cir. 1986). In evaluating whether the plaintiff has met this burden, the examiner must consider the following four factors: (1) objective medical facts and clinical findings; (2) diagnoses of examining physicians; (3) evidence of pain; and (4) the plaintiff's age, education, and work history. Id. Once the plaintiff meets this burden, as here, it becomes the Commissioner's burden to prove that the plaintiff is capable- given his or her age, education, and work history-of engaging in another kind of substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. Sryock v. Heckler, 764 F.2d 834, 836 (11th Cir. 1985).
The task for this Court is to determine whether the ALJ's decision to deny Plaintiff benefits, on the basis that he can perform those light jobs identified by the vocational expert at the administrative hearing, is supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is defined as more than a scintilla, and means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). "In determining whether substantial evidence exists, [a court] must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the [Commissioner's] decision." Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). Courts are precluded, however, from "deciding the facts anew or re-weighing the evidence." Davison v. Astrue, 370 Fed.App'x 995, 996 (11th Cir. Apr. 1, 2010) (per curiam) (citing Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005)). And, "[e]ven if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings, [a court] must affirm if the decision reached is supported by substantial evidence." Id. (citing Crawford v. Commissioner of Social Security, 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004)).
On appeal to this Court, the Plaintiff asserts two claims:
1. The Commissioner's decision should be reversed because the ALJ did not state with any particularity the reasons for his rejection of the opinion of the consultative examiner, Dr. Huey Kidd; and
2. The Commissioner's decision should be reversed because the ALJ failed to further develop the record with regards to a perceived ambiguity in Dr. Kidd's report.
(Doc. 14 at 5.) For the reasons discussed below, because the Court finds that the ALJ did not err with regard to his determination regarding Dr. Kidd's opinion, the Commissioner's decision denying the Plaintiff benefits should be affirmed.
III. Relevant Medical Evidence
Following the Plaintiff's work injury on January 30, 2009, the Plaintiff was treated by Dr. Christopher Patton. (R. 216.) The Plaintiff reported to Dr. Patton that he twisted his knee at work when he fell off some steps. ( Id. ) Dr. Patton ordered an MRI of the Plaintiff's left knee, which showed a torn meniscus; partial tears of the anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament; and the presence of a 1.2 cm bony fragment. (R. 217-19.) Dr. Patton recommended arthroscopic knee surgery to debride the meniscus tear. (R. 219.) On March 12, 2009, Dr. Patton performed arthroscopic surgery of the left knee, in which he debrided the tears of the medial and lateral meniscus and removed the loose body in the knee. (R. 221-22.) Dr. Patton's post-operative diagnoses were: medial meniscus tear; small lateral meniscus tear; loose body in the left knee; and osteoarthritis in the medial compartment of the left knee. (R. 221-23.) Dr. Patton recommended that the Plaintiff wear a knee brace, visit physical therapy to obtain a home exercise program, and return for a follow-up visit in six weeks. (R. 223.) Additionally, Dr. Patton prescribed pain mediation for the Plaintiff and recommended work restrictions of "no squatting, no crawling, no more than four steps on a ladder, and no lifting greater than 30 pounds." ( Id. ) The Plaintiff returned to see Dr. Patton for multiple post-operative visits ( see R. 223-26, 233-35); he continued to complain of persistent knee pain without significant improvement ( see id. ). On August 31, 2009, Dr. Patton concluded that the Plaintiff may benefit from knee replacement surgery. (R. 235.) Dr. Patton referred the Plaintiff to Dr. Michael Granberry for an evaluation for total knee replacement surgery. ( Id. )
On September 30, 2009, the Plaintiff visited Dr. Granberry. (R. 236.) Dr. Granberry performed a physical examination, reviewed the Plaintiff's x-rays and concluded that the Plaintiff had post traumatic arthritis of the left knee; medial and lateral meniscus tears of the left knee; and a left knee strain. ( Id. ) Dr. Granberry recommended total left knee replacement surgery. ( Id. ) The knee replacement surgery was performed, without complications, by Dr. Granberry on December 14, 2009. (R. 239-42.) The Plaintiff returned to see Dr. Granberry for a post-operative visit on February 17, 2010. (R. 244.) X-rays indicated that "the knee replacement [was] in good position with no evidence of wear, loosening or complication." ( Id. ) Dr. Granberry's impression was "post traumatic arthritis, left knee" and "status post left total knee replacement." ( Id. ) The Plaintiff had been going to physical therapy and Dr. Granberry ordered that he continue with his physical therapy plan. ( Id. ) The Plaintiff complained of pain and tightness in his knee, but Dr. Granberry "reassured him that his knee [was] actually doing quite well." ( Id. ) Dr. Granberry advised the Plaintiff that he "need[ed] to work a little more on extension and not sit quite so much." ( Id. ) On April 29, 2010, Dr. Granberry saw the Plaintiff again and noted that the Plaintiff reported he had experienced "decreased pain and still ha[d] some tender spots and some stiffness but in general [was] doing relatively well." (R. 248.) Dr. Granberry concluded that the ...