The opinion of the court was delivered by: PARKER
BARRINGTON D. PARKER, Senior District Judge.
Plaintiff Zillah Shirley brings this action in an effort to overturn a determination by the Secretary of Health and Human Services that she is not entitled to retirement insurance benefits under section 202(a) of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 402(a) (1982). She contends that the Secretary's determination was not supported by substantial evidence and that, accordingly, this Court should reverse that determination under section 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Secretary maintains, on the contrary, that her decision is adequately supported by the record.
Having reviewed the pleadings in support of the cross-motions for judgment filed by the parties, as well as the administrative record,
the Court determines that it should grant plaintiff's motion. Accordingly, the Court will enter an order directing the Secretary to award plaintiff retirement benefits.
Plaintiff is a 66 year old woman. She has spent most of her time since 1966 living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. During that time, she filed a number of claims with the Social Security Administration ("Administration"). First, in June 1981, she filed unsuccessful claims for Disability Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. Then in July 1982, she filed a claim for Retirement Income Benefits, which was also denied. After learning that she was two quarters short of the number necessary for entitlement to retirement benefits, she filed a petition for reconsideration, on October 26, 1982, which recited that she had performed two quarters of work as a domestic in Washington, D.C. Employer's quarterly tax returns, as well as the taxes owed for the wages paid her during that period -- from June until December 1979 -- were submitted to the Administration on October 20, 1982 by her employer, Mr. Calvin Lee. Plaintiff claims that Mr. Lee, while a graduate student in Washington, had hired her to work in his home. Although the Administration denied her petition for reconsideration, plaintiff did not appeal. However, on September 27, 1983, she filed a new claim presenting evidence of employment between May and July of 1983. She appears to have been given credit for this employment; nevertheless, the Administration denied her claim because she still lacked one quarter of coverage. (A.R. at 184.)
In November 1983, Ms. Shirley visited a Social Security District office in Washington and spoke with a claims representative who suggested that the denial of her original July 1982 claim be again reconsidered. On May 3, 1984, the Administration declined to overturn the denial of both that claim and her second, September 1983 claim. On November 27, 1984, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), after a de novo hearing, affirmed those decisions. That determination, in turn, was affirmed by the Administration's Appeals Council on July 6, 1985. Plaintiff subsequently filed the instant suit.
A. Statutory Framework and Scope of Review
Although the absence of entries in the Secretary's records indicating that a claimant has worked during a particular period is presumptive evidence that the claimant was not so employed, a claimant may overcome that presumption upon petition to the Administration. 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(4) and (7). A decision to not to conform the Administration records to evidence proffered by a claimant is reviewable under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(8). Such a decision thus may be overturned by a reviewing court if it is not supported by "substantial evidence."
"Substantial evidence" means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971) (citation omitted). While the standard of review is a deferential one, the court "is duty bound to give careful scrutiny to the entire record to assure that there is a sound foundation for the Secretary's findings and that [her] decision is rational." Hurst v. Mathews, 426 F. Supp. 245, 247 (E.D. Va. 1976). Accordingly, an ALJ must explain his rejection of evidence that conflicts with his findings, Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 409 (3d Cir. 1979); Baerga v. Richardson, 500 F.2d 309, 312 (3d Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 931, 95 S. Ct. 1133, 43 L. Ed. 2d 403 (1975); Simons v. Heckler, 567 F. Supp. 440, 443 (E.D. Pa. 1983); particularly where that rejection turns upon a determination of a witness' credibility. Tieniber v. Heckler, 720 F.2d 1251, 1254 (11th Cir. 1983); Lewin v. Schwieker, 654 F.2d 631, 634-35 (9th Cir. 1981). If the reasons supporting an ALJ's determination, as presented in his written decision, are inadequate, and if that determination is otherwise unsupported by substantial evidence, it will be reversed by a reviewing court. Rossi v. Califano, 602 F.2d 55, 59 (3d Cir. 1979).
B. Review of the Secretary's Determination
In reviewing plaintiff's entitlement to retirement benefits, the ALJ refused to give plaintiff credit for having been employed in Washington for the last two quarters of 1979. That refusal was predicated upon the ALJ's belief that neither plaintiff nor her former employer, Mr. Lee, was being truthful in testifying that plaintiff had worked during that time as a domestic for Mr. Lee. The ALJ's skepticism grew out of what he believed to have been omissions and contradictions in the record.
The ALJ focused first upon the fact that plaintiff did not claim work in 1979 until her October 1982 petition for reconsideration. A.R. at 34. He thus inferred that the 1979 employment was a "fiction which was perpetrated in an attempt to obtain retirement insurance benefits on behalf of claimant." A.R. at 35. What provoked this harsh judgment is not entirely clear. Plaintiff testified at the hearing that she had been employed by Mr. Lee as a domestic in the latter half of 1979. A.R. at 43. That testimony was corroborated by Mr. Lee. A.R. at 44. It was also evident from plaintiff's testimony that her memory sometimes failed her. Indeed, in the very documents referred to by the ALJ, plaintiff stated that she could not clearly remember what her prior work experience had been. Omission from those documents of her work for Mr. Lee in 1979 is entirely consistent with truthful testimony at the 1984 hearing.
The ALJ turned then to the tax returns and related documents submitted by Mr. Lee. Believing Mr. Lee to have testified that, on November 6, 1983, he both filed an Application for Employer Identification Number
and also submitted tax returns and remitted taxes, A.R. at 35, the ALJ found that this testimony conflicted with the record, which revealed that the returns were filed and taxes paid on October 20, 1982. In fact, Mr. Lee testified only that he filed the Application for Employer Identification Number in November of 1983, A.R. at 47; the tax returns and receipts clearly indicate on their face that they were executed in October 1982. Even if ...