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DEFRANCESCO v. SULLIVAN

July 20, 1992

JO ANN DeFRANCESCO, o/b/o, DONALD P. DeFRANCESCO, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
LOUIS SULLIVAN, Secretary, Health and Human Services, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES RONALD NORGLE, SR.

 0RDER

 Before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion is granted and defendant's motion is denied.

 FACTS

 Donald P. DeFrancesco ("DeFrancesco"), a former truck driver suffering from diabetes and heart disease, applied for Social Security disability benefits on October 16, 1985, claiming he was disabled as of February 21, 1984. DeFrancesco's claim was first rejected on November 13, 1986 by an administrative law judge ("ALJ") who found that DeFrancesco retained the ability to do light work. DeFrancesco then lost appeals to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (the "Secretary") and a district court. DeFrancesco v. Bowen, 679 F.Supp. 785 (N.D. Ill. 1988). His third appeal, however, was successful; the Seventh Circuit reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for a new hearing. DeFrancesco v. Bowen, 867 F.2d 1040 (7th Cir. 1989). *fn1"

 On remand, the same ALJ again rejected DeFrancesco's claim. That decision was reversed by the Secretary's Appeals Council, which ruled on August 22, 1991 that DeFrancesco had been disabled from his fiftieth birthday, March 13, 1986, until his death on December 1, 1988. *fn2" Mrs. DeFrancesco then sought reconsideration, which the Appeals Council denied on March 10, 1992. She then sought review of the Appeals Council's ruling in this court.

 When the initial disability hearing was held in 1986, DeFrancesco was age 50, 6 feet tall, and weighed 200 pounds. He had a high school education and worked as a truck driver until 1984. Id. at 1041. His medical history included two heart attacks, in 1970 and 1974, a later episode of congestive heart failure, and poorly controlled diabetes. Id. The diabetes caused "peripheral neuropathy," producing diminished sensation and numbness, particularly in h is feet, and "intermittent claudication" in his legs, producing pain and frequent cramping. Id. DeFrancesco testified that he could not lift more than 30 pounds, could not walk more than a block without stopping to relieve the pain and cramping, or stand for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time. Id. He could drive a car, but occasionally mixed up the brake and gas pedals, and single trips were limited to 17 miles -- the distance to his wife's work place. Id. at 1041-42.

 The ALJ applied the Social Security Administration's Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the "grid") for determining whether a claimant is totally disabled, the threshold for disability benefit eligibility. Id. at 1042 (citing 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 2, § 201.00(g)). The Seventh Circuit found that, under the grid, "a person of DeFrancesco's relatively advanced age, limited educational background, and semi-skilled work experience is deemed totally disabled if he is unable to do 'light work'." Id. The ability to do a less taxing form of "sedentary work" might be sufficient to reject other claims, the Seventh Circuit noted, "but the grid recognizes that sedentary work is not a realistic option for someone of DeFrancesco's age and background." Id.

 The ALJ's initial rejection of DeFrancesco's claim was based on a finding that DeFrancesco's physical limitations would not prevent him from performing a wide range of jobs within the "light work" category. Id. at 1045. The Seventh Circuit reversed that finding as inconsistent with the record and the applicable criteria for "light work" in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and Soc. Sec. Ruling 83-10. Id. at 1042-45. The Secretary and ALJ were directed, on remand, to "get off their grids" and hear testimony from a vocational specialist as to whether DeFrancesco could perform a sufficient number of "light work" jobs to warrant a finding that DeFrancesco was not totally disabled. Id. at 1045.

 During the post-remand proceedings before the ALJ and the Appeals Council, extensive additional evidence was introduced concerning DeFrancesco's medical condition. Also submitted was the testimony and a follow-up letter by vocational expert, James Miller. In the letter, Miller stated that if DeFrancesco's testimony as to his medical condition is fully credited, the only "sedentary" category jobs DeFrancesco could perform in the Chicago area would be approximately 400 evening cashier positions, an insignificant number considering the size of the area's job market.

 The March 10 Appeals Council ruling was based on application of the grid to findings that DeFrancesco was limited to "sedentary work," a category in which he could perform a substantial number of jobs. At age 50, however, the grid directed a finding of disability. 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 2, § 201.14. DeFrancesco therefore was denied benefits from his claimed disability date, February 1984, until his fiftieth birthday, March 13, 1986, but allowed benefits from then until his death on December 1, 1988.

 Mrs. DeFrancesco and the Secretary filed their instant cross motions for summary judgment on April 24 and May 20, 1992, respectively. Mrs. DeFrancesco requests reversal of the Secretary's (Appeals Council's) final March 10, 1992 decision, and asks this court to find that DeFrancesco was totally disabled and entitled to benefits beginning in February 1984 -- not March 13, 1986 -- until his death. The Secretary seeks affirmance of his March 10 decision.

 DISCUSSION

 The Secretary's final decision must be affirmed if it is supported by "substantial evidence." 42 U.S.C. $ 405(g); Scivally v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1070, slip op. at 10 (7th Cir. 1992). Reversal is warranted only if substantial supporting evidence is lacking or an erroneous legal standard was applied. Scivally, slip op. at 10. The substantial evidence standard requires only "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to ...


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