The opinion of the court was delivered by: JACKSON
Plaintiffs in these consolidated cases are all unsuccessful applicants for disability benefits under Title II and/or Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act").
Each plaintiff has been denied benefits on the ground that her infirmities are not so incapacitating as to prevent her from working, and plaintiffs collectively challenge the validity of the regulations,
and Social Security Rulings ("SSRs"),
upon which their claims were denied as being contrary to the Act.
Defendant is the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS"), who administers the Old-Age and Survivors Disability Insurance ("OASDI") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") programs through the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), and is the official responsible for the promulgation of regulations and rulings and interpreting and implementing the Act.
Presently before the Court are plaintiffs' several motions for partial summary judgment declaring the Secretary's regulations, and the way in which she has applied them, to be invalid, and enjoining her from so applying them hereafter both to them and, in the Weathers case, to others similarly situated. The Secretary has filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment in defense of the regulations and the way in which they have been and are now being applied. The issues at this stage are, thus, exclusively matters of law. For the reasons set forth herein, plaintiffs' several motions will be granted, and the Secretary's cross-motion for summary judgment will be denied.
In each of these cases a plaintiff applied for and was denied disability benefits for the reason that her individual "impairments" were not considered by the Secretary to be "severe" under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 404.1521, 416.920(c), 416.921, (hereinafter "the regulation")
and the interpretive rulings, SSRs 82-55 and 82-56. Plaintiffs contend that the regulations and rulings, which permitted the denial of their claims without consideration of either vocational factors peculiar to them or the combined effect of the two or more impairments with which each is afflicted, are inconsistent with the statutory definition of "disability" declared by Congress as entitling one to benefits.
The OASDI and SSI programs contemplate the payment of benefits to disabled persons, and, for purposes of both programs, a person is considered disabled if he or she 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. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (1982). The Act continues to recite that an individual
shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. . . .
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A) (1982 & Supp. I. 1984), 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B) (1982). The Secretary is authorized to establish rules and regulations, consistent with the Act, governing the determination of disability claims. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(a), 1383(d)(1) (1982).
from all of the facts of [a] case. Primary consideration is given to the severity of the individual's impairment. Consideration is also given to such other factors as the individual's age, education, and work experience. Medical considerations alone can justify a finding that the individual is not under a disability where the only impairment is a slight neurosis, slight impairment of sight or hearing, or other slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities. On the other hand, medical considerations alone . . . can, except where other evidence rebuts a finding of "disability" . . . justify a finding that the individual is under a disability where his impairment . . . is listed in the appendix to this subpart . . . .
20 C.F.R. § 404.1502(a)(1977). In 1978, the Secretary revised the regulation to establish a controversial five-step sequential review of disability claims, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1503, 416.903 (1979), under which, if a claimant is found not to be disabled at any successive step of the sequence, the analysis ends and the claim will be denied. See §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a) (1985). The process, as recently described in Dixon v. Heckler, 589 F. Supp. 1494 (S.D.N.Y. 1984), is as follows:
As the first step, the Secretary ascertains whether the claimant is working; if so, a finding of "not disabled" follows. Next (step 2), the Secretary determines, solely on the basis of medical factors, whether the claimant has a "severe" impairment which "significantly limits [his] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." The regulation specifically provides that at this step the Secretary "will not consider your age, education, and work experience." If the claimant is determined to have a "severe" impairment under this definition, the Secretary next considers (step 3) whether the impairment is one which is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations; if so, the claimant is found to be disabled without requirement of further proof that the impairment prevents him from working. The fourth step comes into play if the claimant's impairment, though deemed "severe" under step 2, is not a "listed" impairment under step 3. In such cases, the Secretary determines whether, despite the claimant's impairment, he is able to perform his past work. If not, the Secretary determines (step 5) whether, considering the claimant's age, education and work experience, his impairment prevents him from doing any other work available in the national economy.
Id. at 1498 citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (1983) (footnote omitted).