decision denying benefits to the plaintiff must also be set aside.
When Ms. Taylor applied for social security and insurance benefits in 1981, she was 42 years old and claimed to be suffering from such severe physical impairments and pain and her treating physician concluded that she was "totally and permanently disabled." (Rec. at 225.)
The Secretary, however, rejected the conclusion that Ms. Taylor was totally and permanently disabled, finding that she was able to perform "light work" 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). The Court reversed the Secretary's determination and ordered the ALJ, in considering the evidence on remand, to refrain from allowing his lay observations concerning Ms. Taylor's claim of constant pain from entering into his decision. Moreover, this Court explicitly ordered that the claimant's assertions of pain be given serious consideration and clearly instructed the ALJ to indicate why any probative evidence introduced by plaintiff was not credited. See Order of Reversal and Remand, November 17, 1983.
Unexplainably, the ALJ failed to carry out these directives. He found that the plaintiff "has hypertensive cardiovascular disease with cardiomegaly, chest pain of unknown noncardiac origin, mild degenerative arthritis of the left hip, moderate obesity, and status post cerebrovascular accident" (Rec. at 234), and that the plaintiff "is unable to perform her past relevant work as a nurse's aide." Id. Nonetheless, Ms. Taylor was found ineligible for benefits because the "claimant has the residual function capacity to perform sedentary and light work activities." Id. With respect to the plaintiff's claim of pain, the ALJ merely concluded that it was "contraindicated by objective medical findings and [is] less than fully credible." Id. Moreover, he dismissed the conclusion of plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Batipps, finding that his opinions were "not accompanied by objective findings to support the conclusion that claimant is totally disabled." Id. at 233.
The ALJ's decision was upheld by the Appeals Council. The Council reasoned that in regard to the issue of pain, "the symptoms alleged are still not controlling for purposes of evaluating disability." Appeals Council's Amended Decision (Rec. at 240). Indeed, the Council specifically held that "pain is not an impairment, but a symptom." Id.
Standard of Review
This Court is well aware that its role in reviewing the Secretary's decision is limited; it must not re-weigh the evidence and must defer to the Secretary's final decision as to "the findings of fact and the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom," Reyes v. Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, 155 U.S. App. D.C. 154, 476 F.2d 910, 914 (D.C.Cir.1973), so long as the decision is supported by "substantial evidence" as provided by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Parker v. Harris, 626 F.2d 225, 231 (2nd Cir.1980). The requisite "substantial evidence" has been construed to be "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S. Ct. 206, 216, 83 L. Ed. 126 (1938)).
But neither is this Court merely to "rubberstamp" administrative decisions. Davis v. Heckler, 566 F. Supp. 1193, 1195 (D.D.C. 1983). And "if it is found, in scrutinizing the whole record . . . [that] reliance is placed on one portion of the record in disregard of overbalancing evidence to the contrary, the Court may then interfere with the Secretary's conclusion." Perli v. Schweiker, 543 F. Supp. 394 (S.D.N.Y.1982).
Failure to Consider All Relevant Evidence
The ALJ's failure to evaluate probative evidence submitted by plaintiff or to explain why he deemed plaintiff's claim of pain not credible is "good cause" to reverse the Secretary's decision on grounds that it is unsupported by substantive evidence. Gyurko v. Harris, 487 F. Supp. 1121, 1126 (D.C.Conn.1980). The Secretary's silence on these issues directly contravenes this Court's previous order. Moreover, this silence becomes even more disturbing in light of plaintiff's well-articulated complaints of pain. Contrary to the ALJ's statement that the plaintiff's physician offered no "objective findings" supporting his conclusion that Ms. Taylor is totally disabled, the evidence showed claimant suffered from "abnormal" EEG readings "indicating a structural lesion" in the head region. (Rec. at 186.) Likewise, the Appeals Council, citing a 1981 report of Dr. Gradi's, an associate of Dr. Batipps, recommending that the claimant merely "take two Aspirin, twice daily," (Rec. at 240), failed to explain why it did not credit Dr. Gradi's 1982 report concluding that Ms. Taylor suffered from a structural lesion. (Rec. at 186.) Nor did the Secretary explain why she did not credit Ms. Taylor's many examples of debilitating pain. (Rec. at 45 to 60.) Finally, the ALJ and the Appeals Council never responded to the numerous medical problems that Dr. Batipps and his associates diagnosed to be so severe as to render plaintiff permanently disabled. See Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse Agency Decision at 8, filed April 18, 1984.
The ALJ must evaluate all the relevant evidence. Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705 (3rd Cir.1981). It is not enough for the ALJ merely to hold that claimant's complaints and records were given "serious consideration" and say no more. (Rec. at 233.) What is required of
the ALJ [is] not only an expression of the evidence . . . considered which supports the result, but also some indication of the evidence which was rejected. In the absence of such an indication, the reviewing court cannot tell if significant probative evidence was not credited or simply ignored.
Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d at 705. Furthermore, it is the ALJ's obligation to "examine the record for conflicting evidence. Upon finding conflicting evidence, he should compare the probative value of the treating physician's opinion with the probative value of the conflicting evidence." Bluvband v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 886, 893 (2d Cir.1984). Nothing has been presented or shown in this proceeding suggesting that the ALJ and the Appeals Council applied this balancing test in considering Ms. Taylor's application for relief.
Failure to Apply Proper Standard for Evaluating Pain
It is clear that the ALJ's decision hinged largely on the plaintiff's presentation of "objective evidence" to prove her claim of severe pain. (Rec. at 233.) Likewise, the Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's determination on the authority of Social Security Ruling 82-58 (SSR-82-58), a policy statement dealing with the evaluation of pain in regard to disability claims. The relevant parts of that statement conclude that
Symptoms will not have a significant effect on a disability determination or decision unless medical signs or findings show that a medical condition is present that could reasonably be expected to produce the symptoms which are alleged or reported. However, once such a medical condition (e.g., disc disease) is objectively established, the symptoms are still not controlling for purposes of evaluating disability. Clinical and laboratory data and a well-documented medical history must establish findings which may reasonably account for the symptom in a particular impairment. Objective clinical findings . . . must be present.