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MOODY v. HECKLER

June 24, 1985

ROBERT MOODY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARGARET HECKLER, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baker, Chief Judge.

  ORDER

The plaintiff, Robert Moody, submitted this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) denying his application for Supplemental Security Income benefits. The Secretary has filed a cross motion for an order affirming her final decision.

I.

The plaintiff submitted an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits on April 12, 1982, in which he alleged "mental problems" as his disabling impairment. (Transcript 144-153.) His initial application was denied on July 8, 1982. (Tr. 164-66.) The plaintiff's request for reconsideration (tr. 167) was denied on October 15, 1982. (Tr. 168-169.) The plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 226.) A hearing was held on July 29, 1983 (tr. 89-143), and the ALJ subsequently ruled on November 7, 1983, that the plaintiff was not under a disability within the scope of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 75-82.) On April 23, 1984, the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 66-67.) The plaintiff then filed a request to reopen the decision for the consideration of further evidence. (Tr. 5-65.) Upon consideration of the additional evidence, the Appeals Council again affirmed the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 4.) The plaintiff subsequently filed this action on August 15, 1984, seeking judicial review of the Secretary's final decision.

The plaintiff raises three grounds in support of his motion for reversal of the Secretary's final decision. First, the plaintiff claims that the Secretary's use of 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c), the "severity step", was improper because it increases the initial burden on disability claimants in a manner inconsistent with the Social Security Act (the Act). Second, the plaintiff claims that the Secretary's use of 20 C.F.R. § 416.922 conflicted with the Act's requirement that the combined effects of all of a claimant's impairments be considered in a disability determination. Third, the plaintiff claims that the Secretary's conclusion that the plaintiff is not disabled is not supported by substantial evidence.

II.

The regulations in Part 416 of Title 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations govern disability claims by uninsured applicants and are very similar to the regulations in Part 404 governing disability claims by applicants insured under the Social Security system. The statutory requirements for establishing disability are similar in both Title II (insured applicants) and Title XVI (uninsured applicants) of the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) and 1382c(a)(3). The defendant Secretary administers the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program and promulgates regulations and rulings interpreting the Social Security Act.

A.

Prior to full consideration of the plaintiff's claims, a trip into the "byzantine labyrinth" of the Social Security Act and regulations is warranted. See Wallschlaeger v. Schweiker, 705 F.2d 191, 194 (7th Cir. 1983). Under the SSI program, a claimant is considered disabled if he or she is 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 twelve
  months. . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act further provides that "for purposes of" applying this definition, an individual:

  shall be determined to be under a disability only if
  his physical or mental impairment or impairments are
  of such severity that he is not only unable to do his
  previous work but cannot, considering his age,
  education, and work experience, engage in any other
  kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the
  national economy. . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). The Secretary is authorized to establish rules and regulations, consistent with the Act, governing the determination of disability claims. 42 U.S.C. § 405(a) and 1383(d)(1).

Pursuant to this regulatory authority, the Secretary established a five-step sequential test for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. A finding that a claimant is disabled or not disabled at any point of the review process is conclusive and terminates the analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). First, an applicant who is currently working is presumptively not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). Second, the Secretary determines, solely on the basis of medical factors, whether the claimant has a "severe" impairment which significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). Subsection (c), the "severity step," specifically provides that the Secretary will not consider age, education, or work experience at this second step. The plaintiff's first ground for reversal concerns an alleged increase in the burden of proof on disability claimants in this second step which is inconsistent with the Act.

Third, if an applicant is found to have a "severe" impairment within the scope of the second step, the Secretary considers whether the impairment is one which is listed in Appendix 1 of the Regulations or is equal to a specific listing. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). If a claimant satisfies this third step, he or she is presumptively disabled. The fourth step is considered if a claimant's impairment, though deemed "severe" under the second step, is not a "listed" impairment. A claimant is not disabled under the fourth step if his or her "residual functional capacity" permits the performance of his or her past work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). Fifth, a claimant with a "severe" but not a "listed" impairment who is unable to do his or her past work is disabled if he or she cannot do other work in light of his or her age, education, and past work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f)(1). See also Cannon v. Harris, 651 F.2d 513, 517 (7th Cir. 1981). To calculate a claimant's ability to do past work, the Secretary generally uses a system of medical-vocational guidelines set forth in Subpart P, Appendix 2 of the Regulations.

The plaintiff was found to be not disabled at the second step of the sequential process when the ALJ found that he does not suffer from a "severe" impairment which would impair his ability to perform "basic work activity." (Tr. 77, 82.) The Regulations explicitly define what the Secretary means by a non-severe impairment:

    (a) Non-Severe Impairment. An impairment is not
  severe if it does not significantly limit your
  physical or mental abilities to do basic work
  activities.
    (b) Basic Work Activities. When we talk about basic
  work activities, we mean the abilities and aptitude
  necessary to do most jobs. Examples of these
  include —
    (1) physical functions such as walking, standing,
  sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching,
  carrying, or handling;

(2) capacities for seeing, hearing, and speaking;

    (3) understanding, carrying out, and remembering
  ...

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