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Dorf v. Bowen

filed: July 9, 1986.


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, D.C. No. 80-3951

Author: Garth

GARTH, Circuit Judge:

BEFORE: ALDISERT, Chief Judge, GARTH and SLOVITER, Circuit Judges


On November 21, 1968, claimant/appellant Julia Dorf for the first time applied for Social Security disability benefits alleging disability as the result of multiple sclerosis. On July 11, 1969, following a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Lawrence Brown (ALJ), Dorf was denied benefits based on the ALJ's finding that she was not disabled as of March 31, 1965, the date which the ALJ found was the last date on which Dorf met the insured status requirement of the Social Security Act. A.R. 143-150. Upon approval by the Appeals Council on October 22, 1969, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Secretary. At that time, Dorf did not seek district court review of the Secretary's denial of benefits.

On October 8, 1976, Dorf re-applied for disability benefits, this time alleging that her disability commenced as of June 30, 1969.*fn1 Dorf's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Dorf then requested a de novo hearing before an ALJ. Following that hearing, again before ALJ Brown, Dorf was denied benefits on March 27, 1980. The ALJ found that Dorf's impairments, while sufficiently sever to preclude her from returning to her past relevant work as a clerk typist/girl Friday, nevertheless did not preclude her from performing sedentary work. A.R. 10-18.

Following affirmance of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council on September 26, 1980, Dorf sought review of the Secretary's decision in the District Court for the District of New Jersey. On May 5, 1981, the district court remanded the matter to the Secretary in accordance with the district court's ruling in Santise v. Harris, 501 F. Supp. 274 (D.N.J. 1980), which struck down the medical vocational tables established by the federal regulations as invalid. Dorf's case was subsequently consolidated with the government's appeal of Santise to this court. In Santise v. Schweiker, 676 F.2d 925 (3d Cir. 1982), we reversed the district court's holding that the medical vocational tables were unlawful and remanded Dorf's case to the district court to determine whether the Secretary's denial of benefits was supported by substantial evidence.

On March 7, 1983, the district court held that the Secretary's decision that Dorf was capable of performing sedentary work was not supported by substantial evidence and remanded the matter to the Secretary.

Pursuant to that remand, a hearing was conducted before ALJ Brown. Following that hearing, the ALJ again recommended that Dorf be denied benefits. This time, however, contrary to the finding made by him in 1980, he found that Dorf retained the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work. A.R. 373-382. On May 4, 1984, that decision became the final decision of the Secretary.

Dorf once again sought review of the Secretary's decision in federal district court. On July 16, 1985, the District Court of New Jersey affirmed the Secretary's decision. Dorf filed a timely appeal to this court.


Julia Dorf, now 42 years old, is a high school graduate who has completed one year of college. For two months in 1966, Dorf worked as a nurse's aid. From January 1967 to August 1967, Dorf was employed as an office relief girl/clerk for Union Carbide. At Union Carbide, Dorf's duties included typing, operating teletype machines and performing other office functions, Dorf testified that she left her position at Union Carbide due to the recurrence of the debilitating symptoms of multiple sclerosis. A.R. 487. After she left Union Carbide, Dorf was bedridden for approximately three months in the fall of 1967. Id. In 1968, Dorf again attempted to do clerical work, this time for American Standard Corporation. However, after working only two weeks, Dorf was forced to leave. She claimed to have experienced difficulty walking and due to her disease and the lack of air conditioning she asserted that she was incapable of performing the functions required by her job. A.R. 488-89.

The undisputed medical evidence of record revealed that Dorf suffered from multiple sclerosis. in a series of examinations conducted between 1964 and 1969. Dr. A. Culberson, Dorf's treating physician, recorded the various symptoms Dorf suffered as a result of her condition. The severity of her chronic condition apparently waxed and wanted, at times seriously debilitating her, while at other times only minimally affecting her. Dr. Culberson's notes of his January 1966 examination disclosed that Dorf complained of double vision, numbness of the face, right hand and both feet, and loss of balance. In January 1966, Dorf was hospitalized. A.R. 419-420. In March 1967, Dr. Culberson's notes revealed that she suffered from substantially similar symptoms to those she experienced in 1966. A.R. 420.

Subsequent examinations by Dr. Culberson revealed the ups and downs of Dorf's disease. Following her voluntary cessation of work as a relief clerk at Union Carbide, Dorf was again bedridden for a three-month period beginning in September 1967. In December 1967, Dr. Culberson noted that Dorf's health had improved, although she still complained of the same symptoms as before, A.R. 421. In March 1968, Dorf again experienced periods of debilitating numbness from the waist down, but, according to Dr. Culberson, her condition improved rapidly. Id. In June 1968, Dorf's health again deteriorated, A.R. 422, and in August 1968 Dr. Culberson's notes revealed that Dorf complained that she often felt dizzy and could hardly walk. Dr. Culberson's examination revealed clinical ...

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