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SCARLATA v. SCHWEIKER

March 8, 1982

Yolanda SCARLATA
v.
Richard SCHWEIKER, Secretary of Health and Human Services



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LUONGO POWERS, III

MEMORANDUM

 The Secretary found that plaintiff, a 60 year old white female, suffers from hypertension, minimal spinal abnormalities, and pain in her back. Nevertheless, the Secretary concluded that these conditions were not of such severity as to prevent plaintiff from performing her past relevant work as a file clerk or terminal operator. Therefore, the Secretary concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.

 The sole issue for this court to determine is whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the Secretary's findings. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Under the substantial evidence test, the reviewing court is bound to accept the Secretary's findings if supported by "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, 1427, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S. Ct. 206, 216, 83 L. Ed. 126 (1938)).

 The evidence presented in this case consists only of the oral testimony of plaintiff and her nephew and the medical reports of five physicians. The Administrative Law Judge in his decision summarized all of the evidence and arrived at the following pertinent findings:

 
2. The claimant has the following impairments: Scoliosis of the lumbar spine; lordosis; subluxation of the lumbar spine and pelvis; disc space narrowing; degenerative disc disease; gall stones and hypertension.
 
3. The claimant's testimony in regard to subjective complaints including pain is not credible as to the severity and duration of such symptoms, and further, credible limitations related to such symptoms do not restrict the claimant to a greater degree than established by the medical record.
 
4. The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform work-related functions except for work involving more than minimal lifting, sitting for any length of time, frequent bending, squatting or crawling or climbing and working around moving machinery.

 (Tr. 14). The ALJ's discussion of the evidence, however, is minimal and provides little or no explanation of how he arrived at his findings.

 The failure of the ALJ in this case to state the reasons for his findings renders judicial review impossible. As the magistrate accurately points out in his report, *fn1" there is a significant quantum of probative evidence in the record which supports plaintiff's claim. In view of that evidence, it was incumbent upon the ALJ to provide some explanation why some evidence was accepted while other evidence was rejected. Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 706 (3d Cir. 1981). The ALJ, however, made no attempt to reconcile the conflicting medical evidence presented. In the absence of an explanation from the ALJ giving the reasons for his findings, it is impossible for the reviewing court to fulfill its statutory obligation of review without engaging in a de novo review of the evidence. Accordingly, I will remand this matter to the Secretary with the direction to reconsider the evidence and to explain on the record the reasons for his findings, including his reasons for rejecting the probative evidence in support of plaintiff's claim.

 Recently, in Cotter v. Harris, supra, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit discussed the need, in reviewing administrative decisions on disability claims, for some explanation of the reasons underlying the hearing examiner's findings:

 
In our view an examiner's findings should be as comprehensive and analytical as feasible and, where appropriate, should include a statement of subordinate factual foundations on which ultimate factual conclusions are based, so that a reviewing court may know the basis for the decision. This is necessary so that the court may properly exercise its responsibility under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to determine if the Secretary's decision is supported by substantial evidence.

 642 F.2d at 705 (quoting Baerga v. Richardson, 500 F.2d 309, 312 (3d Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 931, 95 S. Ct. 1133, 43 L. Ed. 2d 403 (1975)). The decision in Cotter expressly recognizes that in the context of determining eligibility for disability benefits, Congress has carefully defined the separation between administrative and judicial responsibilities. Furthermore, if the coordinate roles of the Secretary and the courts are to be mutually respected, the onus falls in the first instance on the Secretary to adequately explain the basis of his decision. Without such an explanation, judicial review almost inevitably results in a usurpation of the administrative fact-finding function under the guise of review.

 The principles underlying Cotter apply with full force in the present case. Because of the deficiencies in the ALJ's decision, the magistrate has recommended, in effect, that I assume the role of fact-finder, thereby substituting my judgment for that of the ALJ. In fairness, I note that the magistrate has aptly targeted in his report the two particular findings in the ALJ's decision which cannot properly be reviewed on the ...


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