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Reading v. Mathews

decided: October 15, 1976.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division No. IP 73-C-551 - William E. Steckler, Judge.

Fairchild, Chief Judge, and Swygert and Wood, Circuit Judges.

Author: Wood

Wood, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellant, Virginia M. Reading, brought this suit to review the final decision of the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare denying appellant's application for child's disability insurance benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 402(d).

The general issue is whether the final decision of the Secretary denying benefits to appellant is supported by substantial evidence in the record of the Administrative Hearing. Two specific issues are raised by appellant. The first is the Secretary's conclusion that appellant has not been continually disabled by reason of the same disability from the time of her twenty-second birthday to the time of her application. The second issue questions the Secretary's conclusion that appellant was presently able to engage in substantial gainful activity as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 423. This second issue we need not reach.

The procedural and medical background must be briefly reviewed. Appellant was born February 23, 1925, being now 51 years of age. Her first application was filed in 1962 and was denied. No appeal followed. The present application was filed on September 15, 1971, claiming disability due to scarlet fever and diptheria at age 4, and spinal meningitis and arthritis. This claim was denied after hearing by the Administrative Law Judge and affirmed by the Appeals Council. Appellant sought review in the district court, but upon the joint motion of the parties the cause was remanded to the Appeals Council for further consideration. The Appeals Council affirmed its prior decision denying benefits. The case came again to the district court and on cross motions for summary judgment the motion of the Secretary was allowed affirming the agency's action. This appeal followed.

The appellant has a long history of medical problems. She is only four feet seven inches tall due to a type of dwarfism. When she was four years old she was hospitalized about two months because of septic scarlet fever, chickenpox and acute mastoid for which she underwent a mastoidectomy. She was found to be a diptheria carrier. No medical record was produced evidencing meningitis, or any resulting disability.

At age 37 appellant was examined by an internist. Historical data at that time revealed the presence of multiple joint arthritis of from seven to eight years duration, and reduced hearing since age four. Her hearing improved by the use of a hearing aid. She could walk in a fairly normal manner, but there were limitations of back motions. In the doctor's view she suffered from stunted bone growth (spondylo-epiphyseal dysplasia of congenital origin) and inflammation of the middle ear (chronic otitis media).

An ophthalmologist reported that he had treated appellant since she was about 39 years old for a retinal detachment in one eye and extensive retinal degeneration and break formation in the other eye. After treatment the retina remained reattached and the breaks in the other eye were well sealed.

A general practitioner reported in 1962 that he began treating appellant when she was about 37 years of age for rheumatoid arthritis of various joints, including hands, fingers and knees, and other ailments. Curvature of the upper spine (kyphoscoliosis) was also diagnosed. In a second report in 1972 this doctor reported that the appellant had been under his care since 1962 and treated for pyelonephritis, cystitis, and degenerative arthritis.

At age 37 appellant when interviewed at the Social Security Office was observed to be wearing a hearing aid and seemed to be able to converse normally, though she complained of becoming easily tired and nervous.

Supplementing this medical testimony was that of family and friends, as well as the appellant. Appellant's brother testified that his sister's principal problems prior to age 22 were poor hearing, shortness and poor mobility. Appellant testified that she had worn glasses since the fourth grade, but that except for a change of glasses from time to time as she grew older nothing serious developed until she was 39. She also stated that her hearing was an impairment but she didn't consider it much of a handicap. Prior to her 22nd birthday appellant stated she required no medical treatment for her stiffness, and her arthritis was not noticeable to her until she was about 35 years old.

Appellant presently sums up her view of the evidence as showing that at age 22 she was dwarfed; had serious eye problems only partially corrected by glasses; had mobility difficulties, probably the beginning of arthritis, which limited her stamina; and was almost totally deaf.

The Secretary responds that short stature does not necessarily mean a person is disabled, and notes that no claim was made by appellant that this condition was disabling. The Secretary also responds that appellant's eye problems did not require medical treatment until she was 39 years old except for a change of glasses from time to time. The treatment at that time repaired the damage in both eyes, but the Secretary does not claim that appellant now has good eyesight. Further, the Secretary responds to appellant's arthritis claim by referring to the medical testimony that this condition had its onset when she was about 29 years old, and that the evidence is that she was not treated by her doctor for degenerative arthritis until she was 37 years old. Also, the Secretary finds that the evidence shows appellant has had reduced hearing ...

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