The opinion of the court was delivered by: GASCH
Plaintiff challenges an administrative decision that found that she was not disabled so as to qualify for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. The parties have filed cross-motions for judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court remands the case to the Secretary for reconsideration.
I. THE FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff is a 65-year-old resident of the District of Columbia who worked as a cook, salad maker, and counter clerk from 1976 to 1982. These jobs involved significant walking and standing, some sitting, and stooping, bending, reaching, and limited lifting.
On October 17, 1983, plaintiff filed a claim for SSI benefits. She claims to suffer from a variety of ailments which, taken together, amount to a severe disability rendering her unable to work. These ailments include degenerative arthritis of the spine, hips, knees, and fingers, hypertension, elevated cholesterol levels, restrictive pulmonary disease, and glaucoma.
Plaintiff's application for benefits was denied initially and on reconsideration. On consideration de novo, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") ruled that plaintiff's ailments were not such as to prevent her from working as a cook and counter clerk. Plaintiff petitioned the Appeals Council for review of the ALJ's decision and submitted a brief arguing her position and additional medical evidence in the form of reports from Dr. Ulep, her treating physician, and the Howard University Hospital. The Appeals Council concluded, however, that there was no basis for changing the ALJ's decision and, accordingly, declined review.
A. The Administrative Record
By statute, a person is disabled "if he is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (1982 & Supp. 1984). Physical impairments must be "demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." Id. § 1382c(a)(3)(C). A combination of impairments may constitute disability. 20 C.F.R. § 416.911 (1985). Here plaintiff argues that the combined effect of her ailments is such as to render her disabled.
The record is replete with medical evidence on plaintiff's condition. A report by Dr. Bruce Kressel dated December 13, 1983 found that plaintiff had indicia of hypertension and arthritis and a history of tuberculosis.
Her blood pressure was found to be fairly well controlled but, due to arthritis, plaintiff suffered from "mild to moderate" restriction of movement in her hips and knees.
An examination by Dr. Kathleen Cantwell on March 14, 1984 found that plaintiff had arthritic spurring resulting from degenerative changes in her right hip and right knee. On March 21, 1984, Dr. Byron Cooper reported that pulmonary function studies showed that plaintiff had moderate to severe reduction in all pulmonary flows. Dr. Cooper found that these problems were due in part to plaintiff's tuberculosis operation, her use of a special hypertension drug, and her cigarette smoking habit.
Finally, on April 11, 1984, Dr. Frank Watkins conducted an examination of plaintiff for arthritic problems and determined that plaintiff had a "mild degenerative disease." Dr. Watkins noted in his report, "I did not see great evidence of disability by these physical as well as radiological findings."
The medical evidence in the record thus consisted of reports from physicians who each examined one of plaintiff's impairments.
Generally, these individual ailments were found to be of moderate severity. There was no report by a doctor which attempted to ascertain whether, taken as a whole, the ailments constituted severe disability.
On the basis of this medical record, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled. ...