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Wallace v. Secretary of Health and Human Services

December 19, 1983

DOLORES WALLACE, APPELLANT
v.
SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Adams, Becker, and Van Dusen, Circuit Judges.

Author: Per Curiam

Opinion OF THE COURT

This is an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review a denial of disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 416(i), 423 (1976). By letter opinion, the district court granted summary judgment affirming the determination of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) that Dolores Wallace was not disabled. The district court concluded that the factual findings made by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) were supported by substantial evidence,*fn1 and this appeal followed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. For the reasons stated, we will vacate the district court judgment and remand for further proceedings.

I

Dolores Wallace is a fifty-four year old high school graduate who worked as a record labeller and inspector for Columbia Records for approximately 9 years. In early November 1978 she ceased working because of a back injury and has not worked since. Explaining her duties as an inspector, Wallace testified that the records passed her station on a conveyor belt and she lifted and pushed stacks of records weighing up to 25 lbs. Her functions were to look for records that were warped, scratched, or improperly labelled and to discard defective records. Tr. at 46-47, 76-79, 87. In addition she had to read computer cards, place records in proper jackets, and write basic data on computer cards such as her name, number of records, and type of defect. Tr. at 65, 87. She was placed on the job after only "a couple of hours" of training. Tr. at 13, 88. She inspected over 2800 records per day. She noted that her fingers were constantly moving all day. Tr. at 12. She stated that she always had to keep up with the records and this put a strain on her because if she fell behind she would be forced to work "extra hard" to fulfill her quota. Tr. at 87. Regarding her physical condition, Wallace testified that she did light housework and drove an automobile when her back was not bothering her. She stated that she could take care of her own needs, but was unable to tolerate stress.

The medical evidence indicates that Wallace suffered from severe lower back pain in November 1978 and was discharged after a six day hospitalization with a diagnosis of acute lumbar strain and sprain. Subsequently, she was treated by Dr. Kaufman who concluded that in 1979 she was neurologically intact and that while there was occasional exacerbation of her condition, she was not totally disabled. Tr. at 156-62 (Report of 12/21/79). In July 1980, Wallace was evaluated by Dr. Heist who concluded that orthopedically she could perform substantial gainful activity which did not require strenuous activity. Tr. 165. In November 1980, Dr. Kaufman submitted another report which suggested that Wallace's chronic back problems resulted in disability because she could not obtain work light enough not to aggravate her problem. Tr. 171. In December 1980, however, Dr. Obade concluded from his examination of Wallace that she was a candidate for sedentary work. Tr. 122-23. In April 1981 Wallace was again seen by Dr. Kaufman who concluded that because of her recurrent orthopedic problems and "hives" she was unable to work. In the spring of 1981, Dr. Sibert, a psychiatrist, evaluated Wallace and concluded that as a result of her physical problems in conjunction with her psychological disorder, "at the present time, this individual is not capable of gainful employment in an open, competitive labor market." Tr. at 202.

Dr. Rubin, a vocational expert called by the ALJ, classified Wallace's former work as a record labeller as unskilled, but determined that the job as a record inspector was semi-skilled. The expert also opined that the job imparted transferable skills. Based upon the ALJ's hypothetical questions, the expert concluded that Wallace had the vocational background to perform various types of sedentary work activities such as those of a mail order taker or bench inspector.

After considering this testimony at the second hearing in this matter, the ALJ found essentially that:

1) Wallace was closely approaching advanced age within the meaning of Reg. 404.1563;

2) her high school diploma does not provide entry into skilled work;

3) medical evidence established that she had lower back syndrome which was amenable to control with medication and avoidance of highly stressful situations and that there was " no evidence of any other significant physical or mental impairment " . . . Tr. at 17 (emphasis added);

4) there was insufficient evidence of pain of such severity as to preclude performance in ...


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