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CROSSON v. SHALALA

October 13, 1995

MINNIE CROSSON, Plaintiff,
v.
DONNA E. SHALALA, Defendant.


James Robertson, United States District Judge


The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERTSON

Before the Court is plaintiff's appeal from the final decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services denying her application for widow's disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. The government has filed a cross motion for affirmance of the Secretary's decision.

  1. Background

 Plaintiff is the sixty year-old unmarried widow of wage-earner Thomas Crosson. She has a 12th grade education and a vocational background as a store clerk.

 In 1978, plaintiff obtained a civil service disability determination from her employer, the Department of Defense, and retired from work. The disability determination was that plaintiff suffered from moderately controlled hypertension and moderate depression. Upon her retirement, plaintiff became eligible to qualify for widow's disability benefits. Her qualification period ended on May 31, 1982.

 Plaintiff's medical records reveal a history of hypertension (high blood pressure), chest pain, and shortness of breath which have led to hospitalization for clinical observation and diagnosis in 1975, 1978, 1981, and 1982. Despite plaintiff's ailments, medical testing undertaken during these hospitalizations was generally unremarkable. Echocardiograms and EKG studies were within normal limits or only minimally positive. Chest x-rays, lung scans, brain scans, and other examinations performed on plaintiff were essentially normal through 1984, two years after plaintiff's last insured date.

 A cardiac catheterization performed in 1982 revealed normal coronary arteries and no evidence of cardiac spasm. After the 1982 hospital visit, plaintiff's chest pain was deemed by her treating physician to be non-cardiac in nature. Hospital records indicate that plaintiff was, at times, not taking her high blood pressure medication.

 Plaintiff filed her application for benefits on August 22, 1990. The local HHS office denied plaintiff's claim at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. At plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in June 1993.

 In assessing plaintiff's claim, the ALJ followed the multi-step process called for in the Secretary's regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (1983); see Brown v. Bowen, 253 U.S. App. D.C. 409, 794 F.2d 703, 705-706 (D.C. Cir. 1986). The ALJ found that, although plaintiff suffered from some chest pain and shortness of breath, she was capable of performing sedentary work, as defined under the Act, and thus was not disabled.

 Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision, supplementing the record with documentary evidence of her mental condition, adduced for the first time on appeal. The Appeals Council concluded that the ALJ's findings remained supported by the weight of the evidence, and declined review. With the ALJ's decision standing as the Secretary's final decision on her claim, plaintiff filed this civil action.

 A district court's review of the Secretary's final decision is limited by the Act. If the Secretary's findings are supported by substantial evidence, they must be treated as conclusive and her decision, affirmed. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see Smith v. Bowen, 264 U.S. App. D.C. 104, 826 F.2d 1120, 1121 (D.C. Cir. 1987). "Substantial evidence" is such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 402, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971).

 The substantial evidence standard requires considerable deference to the decision rendered by the ALJ. The reviewing court may not reweigh the evidence presented to it, nor may it replace the Secretary's judgment concerning the credibility of the evidence with ...


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