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LUNDQUIST v. HECKLER

September 4, 1985

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



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shadur, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Robert Lundquist ("Lundquist") seeks judicial review of a final decision of Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler ("Secretary") denying Lundquist's claim for supplemental security income ("SSI") disability benefits. Lundquist initially applied for benefits under Social Security Act ("Act") Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1381a. After the February 22, 1984 hearing, Administrative Law Judge Thomas H. Ploss ("ALJ Ploss" or simply the "ALJ") denied Lundquist's application on June 27, 1984. Lundquist then exhausted his administrative law remedies (a process that resulted in the ALJ's decision becoming Secretary's) and brought this action against Secretary pursuant to Act § 1631(c)(3), 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

As always in these cases, the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order, each party's motion is denied. Instead Lundquist's application is remanded to Secretary for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

ALJ Ploss' decision (which became Secretary's) rested on his conclusions (R. 8) that:

    1. Lundquist "does not have a severe impairment" and
  therefore is not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act.
    2. Lundquist failed to follow a "prescribed" treatment
  (weight loss) that could have diminished his symptoms.

Lundquist disputes the decision as not supported by the substantial weight of the evidence and also ascribes the following errors to the ALJ:

    1. He applied an improper "severity" standard at step two of
  the five-step sequential evaluation process.

2. He wrongly discredited Lundquist's testimony as to pain.

    3. He failed to give proper weight to the medical reports of
  Lundquist's treating physician.
    4. He misconstrued a mere recommendation to lose weight as a
  "prescribed" treatment for Lundquist's pain.

Facts*fn1

Lundquist was 52 at the time of the hearing. He has an eleventh grade education (R. 38) and can read and write (R. 39). Most recently he has held various jobs through the CETA program and at the post office, but he has not worked since 1978 (R. 282-83).

Lundquist complains chiefly (though not solely) of extreme pain in his legs and lower back. His medical problems have led him repeatedly to seek treatment and have resulted in several periods of hospitalization. Several expert opinions as to the nature of Lundquist's ailments appear in the record:

    1. On May 12, 1980 consultative physician Dr. Shroff examined
  Lundquist and diagnosed the presence of osteoarthritis,
  pulmonary disease, hypertension, obesity and varicose veins
  in both legs (R. 108).
    2. In November 1980 Lundquist entered Bethany Methodist
  Hospital, complaining of weakness and numbness in his legs
  and constant back pain. Dr. Hatfield, Lundquist's treating
  physician, diagnosed Lundquist as suffering from lumbosacral
  spine arthritis, essential hypertension, obesity and
  emphysema (R. 124). Dr. Hatfield also noted Lundquist was
  receiving medication pursuant to a previous diagnosis of
  angina (id.).
    3. In March 1981 a CAT scan by a Dr. Melamed revealed a
  bulging disc and degenerative disc changes and suggested a
  herniated disc (R. 148).
    4. Lundquist entered Ravenswood Hospital for two days in June
  1982, again complaining of back pain. Dr. Hatfield concluded
  Lundquist suffered from refractive back pain, obesity and
  hypertension (R. 259). Dr. Hatfield's discharge
  recommendations included "disability" (id.).
    5. In October 1982 Dr. Hatfield referred Lundquist to Dr.
  Lazar, a neurologist. Dr. Lazar concluded Lundquist suffered
  from possible severe spinal stenosis or meralgia paresthetica
  (R. 261). On November 8, 1982*fn2 Lundquist had a
  myelogram (recommended by Dr. Lazar), which revealed
  indentations on both sides of the spinal canal. Dr.
  Poteshman, who read the x-rays, ...

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