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HAYES v. BOWEN

August 11, 1986

THELMA R. HAYES, Plaintiff,
v.
OTIS R. BOWEN, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GASCH

OLIVER GASCH, United States District Judge

 MEMORANDUM

 This action is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and seeks reversal of a decision denying plaintiff's application for Social Security disability insurance benefits. Currently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for judgment.

 I. BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff is a sixty-one-year-old woman with a ninth-grade education. Her work experience includes employment as an office cleaner, domestic, stockroom clerk and, from 1966 to 1973, as a stock clerk in a drug store. Plaintiff has not held a job since 1973.

 On May 19, 1981, plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Plaintiff alleged that she had been disabled since January, 1975 due to obesity, a hernia, hypertension, stomach problems, and arthritis. Since claimant last met the special earnings requirements of the Social Security Act on March 31, 1978, she is entitled to disability benefits only if she is found to have been disabled prior to that date.

 During initial administrative consideration of her claim, plaintiff was examined by several doctors who reported that she was obese and was experiencing hypertension, varicose veins, degenerative arthritis, a sliding hiatal hernia, and irritable bowel syndrome. Several pre-1978 medical reports also were examined. On December 8, 1982, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that plaintiff was suffering from obesity, degenerative arthritis and pain resulting therefrom, hypertension, venous insufficiency, and irritable bowel syndrome and concluded that plaintiff was "disabled" as of May 19, 1981 for purposes of receiving SSI payments. The ALJ also concluded, however, that plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits because she had not established a "severe" impairment, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c), before March 31, 1978. See A.R. 24-25. On May 23, 1983 the Appeals Council denied review of the latter decision, and the Secretary's decision denying disability benefits became final. See A.R. 3.

 Plaintiff thereafter sought review of the denial, and this Court reversed and remanded the case to the Secretary. See Hayes v. Heckler, No. 83-2179 (Oct. 15, 1984). The Court held that the Secretary had failed to consider plaintiff's credible subjective testimony on the onset of her disability and had failed to elicit evidence from consulting physicians on the question of onset. Id.

 On remand, the Appeals Council vacated its prior denial of plaintiff's petition for review and remanded the case to an ALJ. Additional medical evidence was received, and a supplemental hearing was held. On September 26, 1985, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not "disabled" prior to March 31, 1978 because she retained the functional capacity to perform her past work as a drug store clerk. A.R. 256-57. By opinion dated March 7, 1986, the Appeals Council adopted the findings and conclusions of the ALJ, and the Secretary's denial of disability benefits became final. See A.R. 227.

 II. DISCUSSION

 The Court's role is to determine whether, on the basis of the entire record, the Secretary's decision is supported by "substantial evidence." See Brown v. Bowen, 794 F.2d 703, 705 (D.C. Cir. 1986). "If substantial evidence exists, then the Secretary's factfinding is conclusive." Id. at 705. "Substantial evidence" is "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).

 
By law, "disability" is defined as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a 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) (1982). Furthermore, the ailments must be of such severity that the claimant "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." Id. § 423(d)(2)(A).

 The claimant bears the burden of producing sufficient evidence of medically determinable ailments to establish severe impairment. See Brown v. Bowen, at 706; Wilson v. Heckler, 761 F.2d 1383, 1386 (9th Cir. 1985); Murray v. Heckler, 624 F. Supp. 1156, 1158 (D.D.C. 1986). The Secretary then has the burden of showing that the claimant, "based upon his or her age, education, work experience, and residual functioning capacity, is ...


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