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CHAMPION v. CALIFANO

November 30, 1977

HAROLD E. CHAMPION, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH CALIFANO, JR., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GASCH

 This action was brought to review a decision of the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration affirming a decision of a Hearing Examiner that denied plaintiff disability benefits under the Social Security Act. Plaintiff is a 31-year-old male who suffers from multiple sclerosis. He was first afflicted with the disease in 1966 while on active duty in the Air Force at which time he began to suffer loss of eyesight. He was later discharged from active duty. He states that he has since suffered pain, further loss of eyesight, loss of coordination in certain extremities, nervousness, and extreme mental and emotional depression.

 On February 8, 1973, plaintiff filed for disability insurance benefits pursuant to applicable provisions of the Social Security Act. This application was lost, and on November 13, 1973, plaintiff filed again. After a review of his case by a disability examiner and a physician, the application was denied on April 2, 1974, because it was determined that his impairments were not of such severity as to preclude him from performing his regular work. Plaintiff requested reconsideration, and on November 12, 1974, after further review, the application was again denied.

 Pursuant to plaintiff's request, a hearing was held on April 5, 1976, before an Examiner of the Social Security Administration's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals. On September 28, 1976, the administrative law judge rendered his decision denying plaintiff's claim. This decision became the final decision of the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare when the Appeals Council approved it on March 9, 1977.

 After the Appeals Council's action, plaintiff filed this suit wherein he alleges that the agency decision was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Plaintiff also alleges that there exists additional evidence not previously submitted which, if considered by the Hearing Examiner, would require a decision in plaintiff's favor. Therefore, plaintiff asks this Court to find the Secretary's decision to be improper and to order payment of his disability claim, or, in the alternative, to remand the case to the agency for the submission of this additional evidence.

 The limited role of judicial review in these cases is set out in the Social Security Act itself, which states: "The findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . ." 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g)(1970). The Supreme Court interpreted this statutory provision in Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971), wherein the Court said that substantial evidence means

 
"more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."

 Id. at 401 (citation omitted). It is thus not this Court's function to reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary; instead, it must defer to the administrative decision as long as it meets the requisite evidentiary standard. Reyes v. Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, 155 U.S. App. D.C. 154, 476 F.2d 910, 914 (1973); accord, Wesley v. Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, 385 F. Supp. 863, 865 (D.D.C. 1974).

 To qualify for disability insurance benefits, the applicant must meet the insured status requirements of the Act and then establish a disability as defined by the Act. The Social Security Administration determined that the last month during which plaintiff satisfied the insured status criteria was June, 1974. *fn1" Therefore, plaintiff must show that he had a disability on or before that date. To satisfy this burden, plaintiff must prove that he suffers from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is likely to cause death or that has persisted or will likely persist for twelve months and that prevents him from engaging in any substantial gainful employment. *fn2" E.g., Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).

 The afflictions that plaintiff claims to suffer from are multiple sclerosis and its residual effects, *fn3" nervousness, and mental depression. In his decision denying plaintiff's application for benefits, the administrative law judge first found that "this claimant is . . . not . . . precluded from returning to his prior types of employment by his physical impairments." Administrative Record at 8. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ emphasized the following medical evidence:

 
(1) the June 1976 evaluation of Dr. Gordon who found no evidence of orthopedic disability at that time and noted that if the plaintiff had multiple sclerosis it appeared at that time to be in a state of remission;
 
(2) the May 1976 ophthalmological evaluation by Dr. Nes who found that plaintiff was blind in his right eye but still had good visual acuity in his left eye and therefore was not totally visually disabled; and
 
(3) the June 1970 neurological evaluation of Dr. Green who found minimal impairments of the left limbs and some hip pain possibly due to multiple sclerosis but concluded that plaintiff could engage in sustained light work.

 Id. at 7-8. The ALJ then turned to an evaluation of the psychiatric evidence and found that "this claimant is . . . not . . . precluded from returning to his former types of employment by his psychological impairments." Id. at 9. As support for this conclusion, he references only the July 1976 psychiatric evaluation of Dr. White and quotes that doctor's conclusion that plaintiff was "unable to work presently because of the severity of his depression." Id. at 8. Thereafter, the ALJ simply states the final conclusion ...


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