On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. (D.C. Civil No. 92-02566).
Gisela Jesurum seeks review of the district court's May 6, 1994 order which affirmed the Secretary of Health and Human Services' denial of her claim for Supplemental Security Income Benefits ("disability benefits"). The district court had jurisdiction to review the final order of the Social Security Administration Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). We have jurisdiction over the district court's order, affirming the Secretary's decision, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Because we find that the record cannot justify the ALJ's finding that Jesurum could perform the full range of light work, as defined by the Secretary, we will reverse and remand for further proceedings to determine whether Jesurum is capable of performing work or is capable of engaging in any substantial gainful activity.
Jesurum, age 45, is a native of the Dominican Republic with an eighth grade education and limited English language skills. She presently lives in Elizabeth, New Jersey with her son (age 17), two daughters (age 15 and 12) and granddaughter (age 2). She does not have a driver's license and was last employed in 1971 as a sewing machine operator. Jesurum left that position at the birth of her first child. Since then, she has received AFDC, food stamps and Medicaid to assist with living expenses.
On March 8, 1990, Jesurum filed an application for disability benefits on account of an allegedly disabling back condition. The Social Security Administration denied her claim initially and again on reconsideration. Jesurum requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.
At a hearing on November 15, 1990, the ALJ found that Jesurum could perform the full range of light work and thus denied her benefits pursuant to Rule 202.16 of Table 2, Appendix 2, 20 CFR § 202. On April 16, 1992, the Appeals Council denied further review, thereby entering the Secretary's final decision.
Jesurum appealed the Secretary's determination to the district court. On May 6, 1994, the district court concluded that the ALJ's determination was supported by substantial evidence and affirmed the Secretary's denial. Among other things, the district court approved the ALJ's finding that Jesurum could lift and/or carry up to 20 pounds and could sit for four hours of an eight hour day for 15-20 minutes at a time. He apparently accepted Dr. Miranda's (Jesurum's physician's) Conclusion that Jesurum should be trained for sedentary work, just as he accepted the ALJ's finding that Jesurum's back pains were not incapacitating and that she could perform the full range of light work.
When reviewing the Secretary's denial of disability benefits, we are limited to a determination whether the Secretary's denial is supported by substantial evidence. Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a Conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971). It is less than a preponderance of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla. Id.
To receive disability benefits, claimants must demonstrate that they are unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C.A. § 423(d)(1)(A) (1991). The Secretary uses a five step process to determine if a person is eligible for Supplemental Security Income benefits. In the first two steps, the claimant must establish (1) that she is not engaged in "substantial gainful activity" and (2) that she suffers from a severe medical impairment. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-41, 96 L. Ed. 2d 119, 107 S. Ct. 2287 (1987). If the claimant shows a severe medical impairment, the Secretary determines (3) whether the impairment is equivalent to an impairment listed by the Secretary as creating a presumption of disability. Id. at 141. If it is not, the claimant bears the burden of showing (4) that the impairment prevents her from performing the work that she has performed in the past. Id. If the claimant satisfies this burden, the Secretary must grant the claimant benefits unless the Secretary can demonstrate (5) that there are jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Ferguson v. Schweiker, 765 F.2d 31, 37 (3d Cir. 1985). When the claimant's residual functioning capacity fits within the definitions promulgated in Department of Health and Human Service regulations, the Secretary can meet her burden of demonstrating that work exists for the claimant in the national economy by reference to tables promulgated by administrative rulemaking (the "grids"). Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 468-70, 76 L. Ed. 2d 66, 103 S. Ct. 1952 (1983).
Jesurum's condition did not qualify as one of the listed impairments which would automatically make her eligible for benefits, but she showed that her condition prevented her from undertaking any prior work. Thus, her eligibility turned on the Secretary's ...