Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. (D.C. Civil Action No. 92-cv-01783).
Present: Hutchinson and Nygaard, Circuit Judges, and Katz, District Judge*fn*
HUTCHINSON, Circuit Judge.
Appellant, Evelyn Adorno ("Adorno"), appeals two orders of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey in favor of appellee, the Secretary of Health and Human Services ("Secretary"). In its orders, the district court affirmed the Secretary's final decision to deny Adorno disability benefits and denied Adorno's motion for reconsideration. Because the findings of fact on which the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") based its decision are logically inconsistent and contradictory, we will vacate the district court's order affirming the Secretary's decision and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. On remand, the ALJ should reconcile the contradictions based on all the evidence in the record, including Adorno's claimed inability to tolerate exposure to dust and fumes, and any additional relevant evidence the parties may produce and, if he again elects to reject the medical opinions of Adorno's treating physicians, state his reasons for doing so.
In April, 1990, Adorno filed applications with the Social Security Administration ("SSA") for disability benefits or, in the alternative, supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. She alleged that she had been disabled by the combined effects of asthma, arthritis, and hypertension since June 15, 1989. Adorno's applications for benefits were denied by the SSA initially and upon reconsideration.
On December 24, 1990, Adorno filed a request for a hearing before an ALJ. It was granted, and the hearing was held on February 13, 1991. Represented by counsel, she appeared and testified on her own behalf through an interpreter.
On May 29, 1991, the ALJ determined that Adorno was not disabled and, therefore, could not receive either disability benefits or SSI. The ALJ's decision became final on May 27, 1992 when the Appeals Council denied Adorno's request for review. Adorno then filed a complaint in the district court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 405(g) (West 1991), asking the court to review and set aside the Secretary's decision. On October 7, 1993, the district court affirmed the Secretary's final decision finding Adorno not disabled. On December 6, 1993, the district court denied Adorno's motion for reconsideration.*fn1
Adorno came to the continental United States from Puerto Rico. When asked by the ALJ how long she had "been in this country," she replied 30 years. Administrative Record ("Admin. Rec.") at 30. She was 49 years of age on the date of the ALJ's hearing. In Puerto Rico, she completed only the second grade and has had no other formal education. She testified that she cannot speak or read English.
From 1968 to 1989, Adorno worked for Excell Wood as a machine operator and general laborer. She claims that the dust and fumes encountered at work required her to use asthma medicine. After leaving Excell Wood, Adorno worked briefly as a packer at Papco Industries, but claims that she had to stop working after only four weeks because of her asthma condition. Most recently, Adorno worked at Fluid Chemicals but after one week its factory closed because of poor ventilation. She has not engaged in substantial gainful employment since June 15, 1989.
Since March 1987, Jose R. Sanchez-Pena, M.D. has been Adorno's treating physician. On Adorno's initial visit, Dr. Sanchez-Pena performed a pulmonary function test and concluded that Adorno was suffering from a "moderate asthmatic condition." After eighteen visits, Dr. Sanchez-Pena added the afflictions of arthritis, bursitis, pneumonia and kidney stones to the asthma, which he now found to be acute. In a letter dated March 30, 1990, Dr. Sanchez-Pena stated that Adorno was permanently and totally disabled.
Adorno also provided a note dated March 29, 1990 from another treating physician, Alfonso Polanco, M.D. It stated that Adorno "has been a patient at this office for acute bronchial asthma." Admin. Rec. at 100. In response to a request from the Division of Disability Determinations ("DDD"), Dr. Polanco sent a copy of his office notes. They showed that Adorno was seen on four occasions in 1989 and 1990 and was treated with Proventil Inhaler, Proventil Repetabs, Theo-Dur and Vasotec for acute bronchial asthma. Id. at 98-99.*fn2 Neither the ALJ nor the district court referred to this evidence.
In February 1989, Adorno visited a physician named Leslie Aufseeser, D.P.M., for treatment of bone spurs in her heel. Dr. Aufseeser noted in her report that Adorno wanted to undergo surgery but ...