In the present case, the Secretary argues that
Ringer compels a finding that claims of the plaintiff class,
based on declaratory and injunctive relief, are inextricably
intertwined with claims for benefits. According to Ringer, she
reasons that where, as here, the plaintiffs seek to invalidate
the Secretary's current policy, their claims are not collateral
to claims for benefits and therefore they must exhaust the
administrative remedies. Since some members of the plaintiff
class did not exhaust their administrative remedies, the
Secretary concludes that the class is impermissibly broad and
should be narrowed.
The Court disagrees with the Secretary's broad
interpretation of Ringer. Throughout his opinion, Justice
Rehnquist referred to the "particular" claims involved. In
doing so, he emphasized that the determination of declaratory
and injunctive relief on this issue under the Medicare Act
would leave the Secretary no alternative but to grant the
plaintiffs' reimbursement claims. The Court's narrow
interpretation of Ringer is reinforced by Justice Rehnquist's
reference to "only essentially ministerial details" remaining
after the relief sought if it were granted. Id. at 2022.
In the present case, notwithstanding the plaintiffs' attempt
to invalidate the Secretary's current policy, the Court finds
that more than "ministerial details" remain before members of
the plaintiff class will receive benefits. The Court's order
which invalidated two of the Secretary's regulations required
her to hold new disability hearings in order to apply the
correct standard for disability as defined by the Court.
Johnson v. Heckler, 593 F. Supp. 375, 381-82 (N.D.Ill. 1984).
Since some members of the plaintiff class may not be awarded
disability benefits after the new hearings, an award of
benefits is by no means automatic or ministerial. Johnson v.
Heckler, supra, 100 F.R.D. at 74. Therefore, the Court
concludes that plaintiffs' claims are collateral to claims for
Since the Secretary does not challenge the Court's order
certifying the class on any other factors, i.e., plaintiffs'
substantial interest in prompt judicial review, i.d., the Court
holds that administrative exhaustion is not required and the
plaintiff class will not be narrowed.
3. The Severity Regulation
The Secretary argues that recent Congressional action and
case law require reconsideration of the September 19, 1984
order and affirmance of the severity regulation's validity.
More specifically, she argues that the Conference Report
accompanying the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform
Act of 1984, Pub.L. No. 98-460, explicitly endorses her
sequential evaluation process and the concept of severity.
H.Rep. No. 1039, 98th Cong., U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1984,
p. 3038 (Printed at 130 Cong.Record 9827, September 19, 1984).
In addition, she contends that recent case law underscores the
conclusion that a claimant may be denied benefits on a medical
determination of nonseverity alone, without consideration of
age, education, and vocational factors. Plaintiffs counter
that the Secretary's severity regulation exceeds an acceptable
de minimis threshold test, even though they concede the
validity of the severity concept.
The Court finds nothing in the Secretary's two arguments to
persuade it to reconsider its previous order invalidating step
two of the sequential process. First, the Conference Report's
general endorsement of the sequential evaluation process does
not affect the Court's narrow ruling that the substitution of
"basic work activities" under the regulation for "previous
work" under the statute impermissibly increases the claimant's
burden of proof. The Court invalidated neither the sequential
evaluation process nor the severity concept. The Court
essentially agreed with the plaintiffs that the second step of
the sequential process exceeds a de minimis threshold severity
test and is therefore outside of the proper scope of the
Second, the case law cited by the Secretary does not affect
the previous ruling since the Court explicitly rejected the
assertion that vocational factors had to be considered at the
second step. Johnson v. Heckler, supra, 593 F. Supp. at 379.
4. Combined Effect of Nonsevere Impairments
The Secretary argues that recent Congressional action
prevents the Court's previous order from being applied
retroactively on the issue of the combined effect of nonsevere
impairments. More specifically, she argues that the 1984
amendment of the Social Security Act which specifically refers
to a combination of nonsevere impairments makes a change from
the pre-1984 law and therefore the new policy should not be
applied retroactively since Congress did not so provide.
Plaintiffs counter that the amendment is a clarification of,
not a change from, the pre-1984 law and as such the amendment
is proof of the propriety of this Court's interpretation of
the statute as it existed prior to the amendment.
The issue is whether the 1984 amendment is a change from the
old law or a clarification of it. First, the Conference Report
specifically states that the pre-1984 statute did not prohibit
considering the combined effect of nonsevere impairments:
"There is no statutory provision concerning the consideration
of the combined effects of a number of different impairments."
130 Cong.Record 9829 (September 19, 1984). In addition, the
Report refers to the Secretary's regulations and the "current
policies" to describe the Secretary's practice of refusing to
combine nonsevere impairments. Therefore, the Court interprets
the Report to refer to the Secretary's policy as being
incorrect rather than the statute itself prohibiting the
combined effect of nonsevere impairments. This observation
suggests that Congress intended to correct the Secretary's
policy by clarifying the statute rather than to change a
contrary policy mandated by the old law.
Second, the Court is convinced that Congress intended a
clarification, rather than a change, since the 1984 amendment
makes the statute consistent with the Court's interpretation
of the statute, Johnson v. Heckler, supra, 593 F. Supp. at 381.
Where, as here, subsequent legislation reflects an
interpretation of the earlier Act, the amendment is entitled to
great weight in determining the meaning of the earlier statute.
Brown v. Marquette Sav. and Loan Ass'n, 686 F.2d 608, 615 (7th
Cir. 1982). Therefore, the Court holds that its September 19,
1984 order may be applied retroactively to members of the
Defendant's motion to alter or amend the Court's order dated
September 19, 1984 is denied. Defendant's motion to stay the
order pending the outcome of the above motion is denied for
IT IS SO ORDERED.