United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, E.D
January 6, 1984
MARIA SZULYK, PLAINTIFF,
MARGARET HECKLER, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bua, District Judge.
The instant matter is an appeal from a final determination of
the defendant, the Secretary of the Department of Health and
Human Services (the Secretary), denying disability insurance
benefits because of a finding that plaintiff Maria Szulyk was
not under a disability. Before the Court are the plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment or, in the alternative, for a
Remand to the Secretary and the defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment. For the reasons stated herein, plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment is denied, but the Motion for Remand is
granted. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied.
Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits on July
21, 1980 alleging that she became unable to work on July 31,
1977 due to problems with her neck, shoulder, and back, as well
as headaches and depression.*fn1 The application was denied
initially and on reconsideration. The case then was taken to an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who considered the case de
novo. On October 4, 1982 he found that plaintiff was not under
a disability. This decision became the final decision of the
Secretary on March 7, 1983 when it was approved by the Appeals
Council. Plaintiff then filed this lawsuit in this Court.
Plaintiff contends that the Secretary's finding that she does
not suffer from a severe impairment is not supported by
substantial evidence. Specifically, plaintiff challenges the
ALJ's findings as to the conclusion reached from the medical
evidence presented and as to the plaintiff's complaints of
The ALJ, after considering the evidence presented, concluded
that plaintiff did not suffer from a severe impairment which
would render her disabled and thus entitle her to disability
insurance benefits. In so concluding, the ALJ found that
. . 3. The medical evidence indicates that the claimant has
osteoarthritis and radiculopathy of the cervical and lumbar
spine. These conditions cause no significant functional
limitation, or neurological, motor or reflex abnormalities. The
medical evidence further establishes that the claimant suffers
from involutional depression. The claimant experiences anxiety,
however, it would not interfere with her ability to understand
and follow instructions or to socialize with others. The
claimant is alert, oriented, appropriate, and experiences no
significant constriction of interests.
4. The claimant's complaints of pain are not entirely credible;
the claimant does not suffer from pain severe enough to cause a
significant functional restriction.
5. The claimant does not suffer from any impairment or
combination of impairments severe enough to preclude the
performance of her former bench assembly work. . . .
In order to establish a disability sufficient to entitle a
plaintiff to benefits, a two-step process must first be
completed. The first step requires that a 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
twelve months must be found to exist. Second, there must be a
factual determination that the impairment renders the plaintiff
unable to engage in any substantial gainful employment.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), (2)(A); McNeil v. Califano, 614 F.2d 142
(7th Cir. 1980); Lieberman v. Califano, 592 F.2d 986
It is well settled that the plaintiff must bear the burden of
proof to establish entitlement to disability insurance benefits
under the Social Security Act.*fn2 Johnson v. Weinberger,
525 F.2d 403 (7th Cir. 1975). It is equally well settled that
the decision of the Secretary must be supported by substantial
evidence, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which has been defined as "such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate
to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971).
It is the opinion of this Court that the record supports the
ALJ's conclusion that, from a purely physical standpoint,
plaintiff would be able to return to her former bench assembly
position despite the fact that certain abnormalities and
limitations on plaintiff's physical abilities are apparent
throughout the record.
The record reveals that as assembler, plaintiff was required to
sit for roughly seven hours each day and to walk nearly one
hour each day. At that job, plaintiff was required to carry a
tray weighing at least 12 pounds 20 feet to a shelf five feet
above the floor where the tray would be placed. In the assembly
job, she was frequently required to bend and was occasionally
required to reach. Under the U.S. Department of Labor's
classifications, the bench assembly position would fall between
the "sedentary" and "light" work classifications.*fn3
Two of the consulting physicians engaged by the Secretary
concluded that plaintiff could engage in "light" work.
Furthermore, the reports of plaintiff's various treating
physicians, whose opinions are entitled to great weight, Allen
v. Weinberger, 552 F.2d 781 (7th Cir. 1977); Holndoner v.
Schweiker, 542 F. Supp. 739 (N.D. Ill. 1982), revealed that
from a purely physical standpoint, plaintiff was within normal
The ALJ apparently relied upon his observations of plaintiff in
determining that plaintiff's complaints of pain are "not
entirely credible." Such a conclusion, however, is not
supported by the evidence. From the decision of the ALJ, one
might conclude that reports of pain are rarely found in the
record. However, upon close examination, it is clear that
complaints and extensive treatment of pain make up a
substantial portion of plaintiff's medical history. Indeed, it
appears that while plaintiff may be mechanically capable of
performing various tasks, the severity of the pain from which
she suffers severely limits her actual abilities.
The report of Dr. Walter Brodeck indicates that plaintiff
suffers from low back pain which is virtually constantly
present. Indeed, such pain is so severe that, in Dr. Brodeck's
opinion, plaintiff would, for the most part, be incapable of
operating machinery controls with her feet.
Dr. Leonard Kranzler, another of plaintiff's treating
physicians, also reports that plaintiff suffers from back,
neck, and shoulder pain which, despite physical and drug
therapy, has shown little lasting improvement.
The record does indicate that with the use of a neck brace,
plaintiff has experienced some relief from pain. However, this
relief does not appear to be permanent. In addition, the ALJ
did not determine whether plaintiff could carry out her duties
as an assembler while wearing the brace.
Finally, the report of Dr. Satya Kaushal revealed that, while
the X rays to plaintiff's shoulder were within normal limits,
certain soft tissue damage, which might produce severe pain,
would not show up on a normal X ray. In addition, Dr. Kaushal
noted that in light of plaintiff's physical problems, her back
is "liable to trauma and aggravation following trauma" which
would result in "considerable symptoms" (e.g. pain).
While the ALJ's observations of plaintiff are certainly
relevant and reliable, in light of the overwhelming evidence to
the contrary contained in the record, to simply declare that
plaintiff's complaints of pain were "not entirely credible,"
without further explanation, constitutes error on the part of
the ALJ. The Court therefore remands the instant matter to the
Secretary to make specific findings as to plaintiff's pain
which are supported by substantial evidence. In so doing, the
Secretary should state explicit reasons for rejecting the
diagnoses of pain supplied by plaintiff's physicians. See,
For the reasons stated herein, the parties' Motions for Summary
Judgment are denied and the plaintiff's Motion for Remand is
granted. The case is ordered remanded to the Secretary for
further proceedings consistent with this order.
IT IS SO ORDERED.