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Rhoderick v. Heckler

June 25, 1984


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 82 C 4259 -- Kenneth J. Meyers, Magistrate.

Pell and Posner, Circuit Judges, and Parsons, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Parsons

PARSONS, Senior District Judge.

This appeal challenges a decision of Magistrate Meyers of the Southern District of Illinois in which he approved the determination of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to deny the application of plaintiff-appellant, Jerry L. Rhoderick, for an award of disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act.*fn1 Review by the district court is provided for by Section 405(g) of the Act. Appeal to this Court from decisions of district court magistrates is provided for by the Magistrates Act of 1968.*fn2 We conclude that Magistrate Meyers should be affirmed.

The Appellant Rhoderick is a 42 year old man with a seventh grade education, and a 20 year work history. Beginning on February 3, 1974 he was employed by the Amax Coal Company until on January 22, 1980 he sustained a comminuted fracture of his left knee. Two days later surgery was performed and a Barr bolt was inserted into his knee. After fifteen more days in the hospital he was released to go hom on crutches. Then in June of that year he was readmitted to the hospital complaining of pain in his left leg. His condition was diagnosed as thrombophlebitis for which he was treated eventually with Heparin, a blood thinner, and discharged finally on July 22, 1980. Prior to the January injury to his left knee, Rhoderick had experienced various problems with his right leg, including ulcerations and recurrent phlebitis.

An individual seeking to establish a claim for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act must provie that he is "under a disability." Subsection (d)(1)(A) of the Act defines the term "under a disability" as being 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. . . ." Physical or mental impairment is defined in subsection (d)(3) as "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." Subsection (d)(5) places the burden of proof on the claimant to establish a disability and provides that an "individual shall not be considered to be under a disability unless he furnishes such medical and other evidence of the existence thereof as the Secretary may require." 42 U.S.C. ยง 423(d)(1), (3) & (5) (1978). See Whitney v. Schweiker, 695 F.2d 784 (7th Cir. 1982); Johnson v. Weinberger, 525 F.2d 403 (7th Cir. 1975). If the claimant meets his burden, the burden then shifts to the Secretary to establish the existence of other work the claimant is able to perform.

Judicial review of the Secretary's findings is limited to a determination of whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence based on the record as a whole. Whitney v. Schweiker, 695 F.2d 784, 786 (7th Cir. 1982); Schmoll v. Harris, 636 F.2d 1146, 1149-50 (7th Cir. 1980); Carver v. Harris, 634 F.2d 363, 364 (7th CIr. 1980). Substantial evidence is defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might aaccept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971). See Whitney v. Schweiker, 695 F.2d 784, 786 (7th Cir. 1982); Allen v. Weinberger, 552 F.2d 781, 784 (7th Cir. 1977).

Plaintiff, in urging our reversal of the magistrate, argues that the administrative record shows that the Administrative Law Judge was wrong in that he did nmo consider plaintiff's exertional and non-exertional impairments in combination as directed by regulations applicable to cases like his.*fn3 However, when we review the opinion of the Administrative Law Judge and the record of what transpired before him, as well as the analysis of it by the magistrate, and assume for the moment, as did the magistrate, that a non-exertional impairment or impairments existed, it becomes clear that the magistrate was correct in finding that the Administrative Law Judge did not fail to consider the combined effect of both types of impairments.

Plaintiff's application for benefits was based primarily upon leg impairments due to the fractured knee and to recurrent episodes of thrombophlebitis. All of the medical reports in the administrative record account for the knee injury, but characterize it as not being a disabling impairment.*fn4 These reports indicate instead that the plaintiff has regained significant mobility in his knee and that any remaining limitation is minimal.

Plaintiff's thrombophlebitis made his recovery from the knee facture more difficult, but plaintiff presented no evidence to the Administrative Law Judge that he had experienced a flare-up subsequent to December of 1980. Plaintiff's administrative hearing was in February of 1982. At that time none of the medical reports he furnished indicated that his leg conditions had become disabling.

When plaintiff testified before the Administrative Law Judge he alluded to his suffering then from a number of other ailments: back problems, nervousness, high blood pressure, the side effects of alcohol and drug abuse and substantial pain. At the hearing, his own testimony was to the effect that although he could walk only several blocks without resting, standing did not bother him too much and sitting gave him no trouble whatsoever. Now he argues that the Administrative Law Judge failed to consider these more recent and unsubstantiated impairments singly and in combination with his knee and thrombophlebitis, in order to arrive at a finding of disability. But neither the plaintiff's testimony nor any medical evidence of record supports the claim that the cumulative effect of his leg problems and all of these various unrelated complaints caused him to be disabled.

As noted earlier, the claimant must prove that the requirements for eligibility have been met. This Rhoderick did not do. All of the evidence before the Administrative Law Judge, Rhoderick's testimony and the exhibits presented showed his relative youth, his literacy, his wide range of job experience, as well as his substantial recovery from the accident and the ability to control deficiencies resulting from both his accident and his collateral ailments. The evidence demonstrated that within 12 months from his accident he had regained sufficient functional capacity at least to do sedentary work. As the magistrate observed, when the Administrative Law Judge questioned the claimant at length about his current ability to be active he received answers which justified his concluding that Rhoderick was able to perform sedentary work but that for other reasons he would prefer not to work at all.

The Administrative Law Judge took notice of the fact that opportunities to perform sedentary work exist in the national economy, and made in conformity with the rules the finding that the claimant was not disabled.*fn5 This administrative finding is commonly referred to as the "grid approach". The use of the "grid approach" by Administrative Law Judges in making their recommendations to the Secretary has been approved expressly by the Supreme Court, Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 103 S. Ct. 1952, 1958, 76 L. Ed. 2d 66 (1983), and it was the approach accepted in this Circuit prior to the Heckler v. Campbell decision ; Wallschlaeger v. Schweiker, 705 F.2d 191, 196-198 (7th Cir. 1983); Cummins v. Schweiker, 670 F.2d 81, 82-83 (7th Cir. 1982). The magistrate below relied on Cummins as well as on an Eighth Circuit and a Fifth Circuit case in coming to his conclusion.

Examining the entire record as it was before the magistrate, we conclude as did the magistrate that the Secretary's determination was supported by substantial evidence. For all the reasons ...

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