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Olsen v. Schweiker

decided: March 31, 1983.

JAMES E. OLSEN, APPELLANT,
v.
RICHARD S. SCHWEIKER, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, APPELLEE



ON APPEAL FROM AN ORDER AND JUDGMENT OF THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA.

Gibbons, Higginbotham and Becker, Circuit Judges. Becker, Circuit Judge, dissenting.

Author: Higginbotham

Opinion OF THE COURT

A. LEON HIGGINBOTHAM, JR., Circuit Judge.

In this case plaintiff appeals from a district court order reviewing a decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) denying plaintiff disability benefits after October 16, 1980. The principal issue to be decided by this Court is whether substantial evidence supports the Secretary's decision. We believe that the Secretary's decision denying benefits after October 16, 1980 was supported by substantial evidence, and therefore will affirm the judgment of the district court.

I. Statement of Case

Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability insurance benefits with the Social Security Administration on April 14, 1980. Plaintiff claimed that a back injury prevented him from working after September 19, 1979. The Social Security Administration denied the application initially and again on rehearing. Pursuant to plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a de novo hearing at which plaintiff appeared with counsel. On February 19, 1981 the ALJ granted plaintiff's application for disability benefits but for the period September 19, 1979 through October 16, 1980. The ALJ concluded that plaintiff "[was] able to perform sedentary work activity" as of October 16, 1980. (Tr. 22). Therefore, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled beyond that period. Id.

Plaintiff then sought review of the ALJ's decision in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. After evaluating the record and findings of the ALJ, the magistrate recommended that the ALJ's decision be affirmed. The magistrate stated:

The claimant apparently does not argue that the ALJ's findings and evaluation of his residual functional capacity for sedentary work were fundamentally wrong, but that they were incomplete because the ALJ did not give due consideration to his mental retardation as an impairment which, added to this physical impairments, effectively precluded him from engaging in the "full range" of sedentary work.

(Appendix "App." B-13).

The magistrate further stated:

The findings of Dr. Spergel indicate that the limitations imposed by the claimant's mental retardation were not sufficiently restrictive to prevent him from engaging in several forms of sedentary work. (Tr. 189). Moreover, it appears that the ALJ gave due consideration to Dr. Spergel's report, in particular noting that Dr. Spergel did not believe that the claimant's limited mental ability would prevent him from engaging in a number of sedentary jobs. (Tr. 21-22).

(App. B-15).

The district court granted defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and adopted the Magistrate's Report. (App. E-1).

II. The Facts

At the time of the administrative hearing plaintiff was 34, had completed a sixth grade education, and was considered illiterate. His employment history included limited work as a trash collector, mover, dishwasher, janitor and grounds keeper. (Tr. 87). He worked as a grounds keeper at St. Agnes Hospital in Philadelphia until his accident, which occurred during the course of his employment. Plaintiff was injured when he slipped and fell down a number of wet steps on September 19, 1979. (Tr. 48).

Plaintiff underwent substantial medical evaluations and treatment. (Tr. 7-10, 105-207). He was eventually admitted to Riddle Memorial Hospital on February 18, 1980 for the surgical removal of an injured disc. He was readmitted on March 3, 1980 for phlebitis which was successfully treated. (Tr. 117-32).

The record contains a number of medical reports summarizing evaluations conducted by various physicians regarding plaintiff's medical condition. Dr. Erwin R. Schmidt, Jr., an orthopaedic specialist, concluded that plaintiff was disabled from performing his past maintenance work (Tr. 183), but found plaintiff capable of performing sedentary work. (Tr. 204). Similarly, Dr. Robert J. Doman concluded that plaintiff retained the functional capacity for sedentary work. (Tr. 192-95).

Dr. Philip Spergel, a psychologist and vocational expert, also interviewed the claimant. Dr. Spergel found that the claimant was not only illiterate, but that he possessed a "borderline range of intelligence." (Tr. 188). Dr. Spergel nevertheless found plaintiff capable of performing "all activities of daily living (dressing, bathing, etc.)." (Id. at 187). He also concluded that plaintiff had a good range of motion in his hands, and that plaintiff could sit comfortably for several hours so long as he shifts positions. (Id.). Finally, Dr. Spergel reported that plaintiff admitted that he could lift up to ten pounds. (Id.).

After evaluating plaintiff's mental and physical limitations, Dr. Spergel concluded that plaintiff was capable of work and identified specific sedentary jobs existing in the national economy within plaintiff's residual functional capacity. Dr. Spergel stated:

Despite Mr. Olson's physical limitations resulting from his lumbosacral discomfort and his educational deficits, he still retains transferable skills. His upper extremity psychomotor functions are intact and his gross manipulative skills aren't impaired. In addition, his visual organization is ...


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