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Schmoll v. Harris

decided: December 23, 1980.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No 79 C 324 -- William E. Steckler, Judge.

Before Cummings and Wood, Circuit Judges, and Campbell, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Campbell

The issue in this appeal is whether the Secretary's denial of plaintiff's application for disability benefits is supported by substantial evidence. We believe the record does not support the Secretary's finding that plaintiff's use of Librium does not preclude her from engaging in substantial gainful employment. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Claimant, Maxine Schmoll, was born on June 15, 1921. She received a high school education before entering the work force in 1938. Claimant's employment history is almost exclusively in quality control areas of manufacturing. Her early employment included: assembling fly swatters; weighing and checking cans of meat at a meat-packing plant; inspecting the seams on cargo parachutes; and examining ball bearings and prisms for defects. In 1944 she began work at the Eli Lilly plant in Indianapolis, Indiana. At Eli Lilly she sorted, inspected and labeled pill bottles until September 1971. At that time she ceased working, complaining of arthritis in the neck, severe pain in her left shoulder and left leg, and a recurring numbness in her hands and arms.

Claimant's health problems began with abdominal cancer surgery in 1965. She was hospitalized for a period of two and one-half months, and was unable to work for more than eight months. After returning to work, Claimant was able to work a half day for several months. When she resumed working full time, her doctor requested that she be permitted to lie down for two hours during the day, which Eli Lilly agreed to.

Claimant was hospitalized again in 1970. She testified that the reason for her hospitalization was "another blackout spell." She was hospitalized for approximately two weeks at the direction of her doctor. In September 1971, claimant took an extended disability leave, and was retired by Eli Lilly on May 1, 1974. There is no dispute that the crucial date for eligibility for social security benefits is September 30, 1976.

Claimant first filed for disability insurance benefits on February 14, 1972. That application was denied, as was a subsequent application on May 22, 1974. No hearing was held on either application, and the denials appear to be based solely on interviews with Social Security personnel. On August 4, 1976, claimant filed this application for disability. She requested a hearing, which was held on January 24, 1978 at Indianapolis before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). On April 10, 1978, the ALJ entered findings in which he determined that claimant was "not under a disability, as defined in the Act."

In order to establish eligibility for disability benefits, claimant must show that she is unable;

"... to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairments which can be expected ... to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months ..." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) (1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1501(a)(1).

Whether a particular impairment, either physical or mental, is disabling will depend on all the pertinent facts, such as: vocational skills, age, education, prior experience, an individual's residual functional capacity, and the demand for the kinds of work the individual is capable of performing. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1502.

In the instant case, claimant was not represented by counsel until after the ALJ rendered an adverse decision. Her contentions as to disability were prepared without the benefit of legal counsel. Since she was not represented by counsel at the hearing before the ALJ, claimant's ability to present her case and rebut the evidence adverse to her was quite limited.

Upon review of the record in the case, counsel for the claimant contacted the Appeals Council in the Social Security Administration on June 23, 1978. Counsel's letter indicated that, based on his conversations with claimant, crucial arguments and theories of disability had not been raised or in any way developed at the hearing before the ALJ. In his subsequent letter of November 13, 1978, counsel for claimant made reference to a medical report which referred to "a combination of physical and mental impairments" which give rise to a disabled condition. He noted, however, that the "emotional aspects" of the claimant's case had been entirely overlooked. Counsel specifically referred to Mrs. Schmoll's continued use of Librium since 1967 or 1968, with particularly heavy dosages in 1970 and 1971. Counsel for claimant submitted to the Appeals Council statements from her doctors which indicated that she had been taking Librium since May of 1967.

While claimant's treatment with Librium was mentioned in her medical histories and at the hearing before the ALJ, it was never the central focus of her disability claim. This is, at least in part, a result of claimant's lack of effective representation at the initial stage of the administrative process. Yet, there is considerable evidence in the record of claimant's regular use of Librium and its adverse effect on her. Claimant testified at the hearing that she was taking 50 milligrams of Librium at that time and had been taking as much as 100 milligrams per day at one time. Janet Evans, claimant's niece, testified that Mrs. Schmoll "very definitely cannot live without (Librium)"; that she had tried unsuccessfully to "withdraw" from regular Librium use; and that it was "a bad scene." The remaining witness at the hearing was James A. Wolf, a certified rehabilitation counselor with over twenty years experience in his field. Mr. Wolf testified that, based on his review of claimant's work history and medical records, his opinion was that she could perform some sedentary inspection work, probably in the jewelry or electronics field. Yet, Mr. Wolf further testified that his ...

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