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.
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 support a conclusion." Id. (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971)).
Both the Secretary and Mrs. DeFrancesco contend that the other side's position violates the law of the case. See Key v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 1056, 1060 (7th Cir. 1991) (issues expressly or impliedly decided by appellate court are binding on subsequent proceedings in case in the absence of (1) "substantial new evidence," (2) new Supreme Court decision, or (3) second reviewing panel convinced that first panel's ruling was erroneous). The Secretary contends that the Seventh Circuit's opinion remanding this case to the Secretary decided that DeFrancesco could do sedentary work, that application of the grid to his sedentary capacity was proper because the appeals panel's direction to "get off their grids" applied only to the "light work" issue, and that Mrs. DeFrancesco is improperly seeking to reopen the sedentary capacity issue. Mrs. DeFrancesco, on the other hand, contends that the Seventh Circuit did not decide the sedentary capacity issue, basing its decision solely on the "light work" issue. She also argues that the Secretary violated the Seventh Circuit's "get off their grids" direction by applying the grids to DeFrancesco's sedentary capacity.
With regard to sedentary capacity, the Secretary's brief quoted the Seventh Circuit opinion in a misleading manner. The opinion does state that "DeFrancesco has the physical capacity to do sedentary work," as the Secretary noted while omitting the rest of the sentence, "but that is immaterial given his age, education, and work experience." DeFrancesco, 867 F.2d at 1045. Had the Secretary recited the first part of the quote at a trial, DeFrancesco could have demanded an immediate reading of the rest of the quote under the "completeness" rule in Fed. R. Evid. 106. United States v. LeFevour, 798 F.2d 977, 981 (7th Cir. 1986).
The full quote reflects an earlier finding in the opinion that the grid makes "sedentary" work irrelevant -- "not a realistic option" -- based on DeFrancesco's age and background. DeFrancesco, 867 F.2d at 1042 (citing 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 2, § 201.00(g)). Only "light work" capacity could prevent a finding of total disability. Id.
The Secretary found, in his March 10 ruling, that the grid requires a finding that DeFrancesco was disabled at age 50. DeFrancesco had reached that age at the time of the Seventh Circuit opinion (by then DeFrancesco had already passed away at age 52), and the appeals panel may not have realized that part of DeFrancesco's claim covered a roughly two-year period before he turned fifty. On the other hand, this court must presume that the Seventh Circuit was aware of the full record and that its findings accurately reflect the record and the grid. The appeals opinion discusses DeFrancesco's claim as a whole, without any subparts, and clearly states that "sedentary" work is out of the case; DeFrancesco's claim depended only on the extent of "light work" he could perform. Id. at 1042, 1045.
The remand order directing the Secretary to get his ALJs "off their grids," id. at 1045, therefore pertained only to "light work." Because "sedentary" capability had already been deemed irrelevant, there was no need for the Seventh Circuit to state whether the grids should be applied to "sedentary work."
The Appeals Council found in its March 10 ruling that DeFrancesco could not perform any "light work." That should have ended the matter; DeFrancesco's claim should have been accepted in full. Accordingly, the court finds that the Secretary applied an erroneous legal standard, reverses the Secretary's March 10 ruling and enters summary judgment for Mrs. DeFrancesco.
Additionally, the court finds that the Secretary improperly rejected medical and vocational evidence showing that DeFrancesco would not have been able to perform a wide range of "sedentary" jobs. The Secretary has received ample opportunity, both during the initial proceedings and the post-remand proceedings, to show that DeFrancesco could perform "any substantial gainful activity" despite the extensive evidence of DeFrancesco's serious, and ultimately fatal, illnesses. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) (defining "disability"). The Secretary has failed to show that DeFrancesco was not disabled at his claimed onset date, February 1984. See Key, 925 F.2d at 1063 (Secretary's burden to prove by substantial evidence that claimant was not disabled).
For the above reasons, plaintiff DeFrancesco's motion for summary judgment is granted and defendant Secretary's motion for summary judgment is denied.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
CHARLES RONALD NORGLE, SR., Judge
United States District Court