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HAYES v. BOWEN

December 19, 1988

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



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GASCH

 OLIVER GASCH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 This action is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 4O5(g) and seeks review of the decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services denying plaintiff's application for Social Security disability insurance benefits.

 I. BACKGROUND

 The background of this case is reviewed in detail in this Court's prior opinion in Hayes v. Bowen, 643 F. Supp. 770 (D.D.C. 1986):

 
Plaintiff is a sixty-[three]-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.

 643 F. Supp. at 770-71.

 On August 11, 1986, this Court remanded this case to the Secretary a second time for reconsideration of plaintiff's application. Id. at 774. The Court's review of the record at that time led it to conclude that the Secretary had erred first, by failing to give "serious and fair consideration" to plaintiff's testimony, id. at 773; second, by failing to give adequate weight to the opinions of Dr. Salama, one of plaintiff's treating physicians, and by "failing to provide specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting his opinions," id. at 774; and third, by failing to comply with the Court's instructions "to obtain opinions from the consulting physicians as to the onset date of her ailments." Id.

 On October 8, 1986, the Appeals Council vacated its decision of March 7, 1986 and the September 26, 1985 decision of the Administrative Law Judge and remanded this case to the Secretary of Health and Human Services for further administrative action consistent with this Court's August 1986 opinion. A supplemental hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge John W. Taggart ("the ALJ") on July 15, 1987, in Washington, D.C., at which claimant was represented by counsel.

 The ALJ issued a recommended decision on November 20, 1987, in which he made twelve findings that he recommended be adopted by the Appeals Council. See A.R. at 411-12. The ALJ also recommended that "claimant is not entitled to a period of disability or to disability insurance benefits under section 216(i) and 223 respectively, of the Social Security Act." A.R. at 412. On February 18, 1988, the Appeals Council adopted the findings and conclusions in the recommended decision and determined that claimant was ...


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