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SIBLEY v. SHALALA

October 6, 1994

MAURICE SIBLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
DONNA SHALALA, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Defendant.


BOBRICK


The opinion of the court was delivered by: EDWARD A. BOBRICK

Plaintiff Maurice Sibley brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review a final decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services ("Secretary") denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Social Security Act ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i); 423(d).

 I. BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff filed his application for DIB on March 11, 1991, alleging that he was disabled due to a heart attack since February 17, 1991. (Administrative Record ("R.") at 71-74). His application was denied at the initial levels of administrative review (R. 78-81, 87-89), and he requested an administrative hearing. On February 19, 1992, Administrative Law Judge Edward R. Gustafson ("ALJ") conducted a hearing at which plaintiff, represented by counsel, and Dr. David I. Abramson, a medical expert, appeared and testified. (R. 27-70). After considering all the evidence presented, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled and, therefore, was not entitled to DIB under the Act. (R. 14-22). *fn1" This became the final decision of the Secretary when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the decision on January 26, 1994. (R. 4-6).

 A. Evidence of Record

 Plaintiff was born on July 5, 1939, making him fifty-three years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 32). At his hearing, plaintiff testified that he completed ten grades of school. (R. 31, 34). Elsewhere in the record, in a disability report plaintiff signed, plaintiff indicated he finished twelve grades. (R. 112-113). According to plaintiff's counsel, this information was taken over the phone and was in error. (R. 31). In any event, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had a high-school education. (R. 21). Plaintiff worked in a factory from 1961 to 1973, then was a tool and die worker until April of 1990, when he was laid off from his job. (R. 21, 35, 112).

 In February of 1991, plaintiff suffered three days' of chest pain and was hospitalized. (R. 149-50). An electrocardiogram ("ECG") suggested that plaintiff had an acute inferior wall myocardial *fn2" infarction. *fn3" (R. 150). Plaintiff underwent an angiogram which revealed severe blockages in his right coronary artery: a 90% stenosis *fn4" in the mid-portion of the artery and an 80% stenosis one centimeter away. (R. 152). Chest x-rays indicated plaintiff's heart was enlarged. (R. 158). Angioplasty reduced the right coronary artery blockages to 20 and 30 percent. (R. 172).

 Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Zunamon, provided a report based on his examination of plaintiff on April 8, 1991. (R. 167-168). At that time, Dr. Zunamon indicated that plaintiff was not suffering chest pain, but was experiencing syncope. *fn5" (R. 167-168). In addition, Dr. Zunamon reported that plaintiff was dyspneic *fn6" after walking four blocks. (R. 168). An ECG exercise stress test was inconclusive. (R. 175).

 Plaintiff underwent a consultative psychiatric evaluation at the request of the Social Security Agency on May 20, 1991. (R. 186-188). The examining psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Beebe, noted plaintiff's history of congestive heart disease and the fact that plaintiff was taking Prozac. (R. 186). Plaintiff indicated he felt nervous, sometimes depressed, and generally run down. (R. 186). Following his evaluation, Dr. Beebe concluded that plaintiff was experiencing an adjustment disorder with a depressed mood. (R. 187).

 Dr. Zunamon, completed a psychiatric evaluation of plaintiff based on an examination on June 28, 1991. He noted that plaintiff was depressed and frustrated, and was being treated with Prozac. (R. 216-217). Plaintiff's psychological condition, however, did not limit his ability to perform work. (R. 217). Regarding plaintiff's physical condition, Dr. Zunamon reported that plaintiff's ability to work was "limited." (R. 219).

 On January 17, 1992, Dr. Vollala, another treating physician, completed an evaluation of plaintiff's capacity for work. Due to plaintiff's history of chest pain and infarction, Dr. Vollala felt he was limited to lifting or carrying 15-20 pounds occasionally, and 15 pounds frequently. (R. 237). Although he indicated plaintiff experienced fatigue, Dr. Vollala felt his ability to walk or stand was not affected. (R. 239). In addition, Dr. Vollala indicated that plaintiff's ability to sit was not affected. (R. 239). Dr. Vollala also stated that plaintiff's dizziness limited his capacity to perform activities such as climbing, balancing, and working around heights. (R. 238-239). Plaintiff's chest pains adversely affected his ability to push and pull. (R. 238). Based on plaintiff's subjective complaints of shortness of breath, Dr. Vollala also suggested that plaintiff would be unable to work around dust, fumes, and humidity. (R. 239).

 At the administrative hearing, plaintiff testified as to the various prescriptive medications he takes for his chest pains, blood pressure, breathing problems, and a thyroid condition. (R. 39-41). He stated that he suffers chest pains about three times a week. (R. 40-41). Plaintiff stated that his girlfriend does the chores around the house, although he also stated he cooks breakfast and does laundry. (R. 41, 45). He also walks to the grocery store that is a block away, and can carry one bag of groceries. (R. 41). Plaintiff estimated that he could lift ten pounds, although he testified his doctor told him not to lift anything. (R. 42). He also stated he could stand for just five minutes before his legs would get weak. (R. 43). Sometimes, plaintiff experiences chest pain climbing the stairs to his third floor apartment and must stop to rest. (R. 50-51). Plaintiff claimed that his doctor also told him he had emphysema. (R. 58).

 After listening to plaintiff's testimony and reviewing the medical evidence, Dr. Abramson testified as a medical expert. Dr. Abramson indicated that plaintiff's hypothyroidism was under control and that he had a successful angioplasty to reduce his stenosis. (R. 60). The doctor opined that because plaintiff experienced chest pain without exertion and because exertion did not always precipitate chest pain, plaintiff's chest pain was not of cardiac origin. (R. 61-62). Dr. Abramson noted that plaintiff often complained of shortness of breath, perhaps due to emphysema, but also noted that there was no medical evidence to support this. (R. 61-62). While he was of the opinion that plaintiff could certainly perform sedentary work, *fn7" Dr. Abramson was hesitant to speculate as to whether plaintiff could perform light work *fn8" without evidence regarding plaintiff's emphysema. (R. 63). Accordingly, the ALJ ordered a pulmonary function study. (R. 63). Dr. Abramson stated that if such a test showed satisfactory results, plaintiff would be able to perform light work. (R. 67). At the close of the hearing, the ALJ indicated that the question was whether plaintiff could perform light or sedentary work, and assured Dr. Abramson that the additional necessary evidence would be provided.

 On April 8, 1992, plaintiff underwent a pulmonary function test (R. 241). The ALJ then submitted the results to Dr. Abramson for analysis. (R. 250A). Dr. Abramson noted that the test showed satisfactory effort and cooperation on plaintiff's ...


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