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RICH v. HARRIS

November 20, 1980

Mary RICH
v.
Patricia Roberts HARRIS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

MEMORANDUM

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Mary Rich brought this action to appeal the final decision of defendant Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, *fn1" who found that plaintiff's claim of a disability entitling her to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits was limited to the period, April 26, 1977 to June, 1979. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. After careful consideration of the record, the arguments made by the parties in support of their respective motions and the applicable case law, I deny both motions and remand the case to the Secretary for additional findings by the administrative law judge and, if requested by either of the parties, for an additional hearing.

 The procedural history of this case is as follows. On June 30, 1977, Ms. Rich filed an application with the Social Security Administration, attempting to establish eligibility for SSI benefits. (Tr. 46) Although her initial application was denied (Tr. 52), on reconsideration she was diagnosed as suffering from psychoneurotic disorder (depressive reaction) and nerve root compression syndrome, found to be disabled and thus entitled to SSI benefits. (Tr. 54) Thereafter, the Social Security Administration reviewed the case, determined that claimant's disability ended in June, 1979 and on July 23, 1979, notified Ms. Rich that she was no longer eligible for SSI benefits. (Tr. 59-62)

 At her request, the claimant was afforded a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on the termination of her benefits. Considering her case de novo, the ALJ found that Ms. Rich's disability ended in June, 1979 (Tr. 9-14), and his decision became the final decision of the Secretary of HEW when it was adopted by the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration on March 10, 1980. (Tr. 3-4) It is the decision to terminate her SSI benefits which is the subject of this appeal.

 Mary Rich, the plaintiff/claimant in this matter, is a fifty year old divorced woman with two minor children. (Tr. 30) Ms. Rich completed her formal education at the end of the eighth grade (Tr. 30), and her employment history appears to be limited to jobs as a waitress and a cashier in a grocery store. (Tr. 31, 33) It is claimant's contention that she has not been able to work since at least 1975 and continues to be unable because she suffers from various ailments, most notably back trouble. (Tr. 36).

 During her hearing before the Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the claimant testified that she experiences considerable pain in her back which requires her to take a Tylenol/codeine prescription medication (Tr. 37) and to be in traction on a daily basis. (Tr. 34) In addition, claimant stated that in the months just before her hearing she developed severe chest pains, resulting in a ten day hospitalization in October of 1979 and requiring her to take several medications, including nitroglycerin. (Tr. 31-33, 36) According to plaintiff, she also has phlebitis in both legs which developed in 1970 after she had a hysterectomy. (Tr. 33)

 Claimant further testified that as a result of her back and heart problems and the attendant pain, her activities are much restricted. She claims she cannot do heavy housework (Tr. 34) or the laundry (Tr. 39) or even sit through a movie. (Tr. 42) Apparently, the most significant restriction on her daily life is her need to be in traction. Ms. Rich testified that she has a home traction unit, and that back problems require her to be in traction on a daily basis in a regime of two hours on traction and two hours off, throughout the day. (Tr. 25, 32, 34, 35, 41)

 The issue raised by the cross-motions for summary judgment is whether the decision of the Secretary is supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla" and is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842 (1971), quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S. Ct. 206, 217, 83 L. Ed. 126 (1938). Having carefully reviewed the record and for the reasons set forth in the following discussion, I conclude that the findings and analysis of the evidence by the ALJ are insufficient to permit a decision.

 In order to qualify as disabled under the SSI program, a claimant must establish that 1) he has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted, or can be expected to last, for a continuous period of not less than twelve months, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (1973, as amended), and 2) such impairment is of sufficient severity to prevent the claimant from engaging in any kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

 A claimant bears the initial burden in proving disability; this burden is satisfied by showing that because of an impairment she cannot return to her customary occupation. Rossi v. Califano, 602 F.2d 55, 57 (3d Cir. 1979). The burden then shifts to the Secretary to show that the claimant, given her age, training and work experience, is capable of performing specific jobs existing in the national economy. Id.

 Apparently, it is undisputed that Ms. Rich is not physically capable of doing her previous work as a cashier or waitress. In his opinion, the ALJ stated that Ms. Rich "has the residual functional capacity to do sedentary work, which entails lifting 10 pounds maximum and occasionally lifting or carrying such articles as docket, files, ledgers and small tools." (Tr. 13) In addition, the ALJ's decision found that Ms. Rich's case, given her age, education, work experience and physical capacity, is governed by Vocational Rule 201.18. (Tr. 13)

 The Vocational Rules found in Appendix 2 of Subpart I, 20 C.F.R. § 416, serve as guidelines for determining whether jobs exist in the national market for claimants who are not presently employed and are prevented by medically determinable impairments from returning to their previous occupation. Each rule comprehends the four factors of age, education, work experience and physical capacity, all of which must be considered in determining whether the claimant can do work existing in the national economy. When the ALJ's findings of fact as to the four factors coincide with those in a particular rule, the rule directs a conclusion of disabled or not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.913.

 Vocational Rule 201.18, which the ALJ found to govern Ms. Rich's case, directs a finding of not disabled in a case where the claimant is under 50 years of age, has a limited education, unskilled work experience and the capacity for sedentary work. It is undisputed that at the time the ALJ rendered his opinion, the first three factors fit Ms. Rich. *fn2" At issue is the ALJ's determination that the claimant is capable of doing sedentary work. If this determination is not supported by ...


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