2. Standard of Review
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 its own. Davis v. Heckler, 566 F. Supp. 1193, 1195 (D.D.C. 1983)
In denying plaintiff's application for benefits, the ALJ drew two basic conclusions with which plaintiff takes issue.
First, although the ALJ found that plaintiff's chest pains and hypertension were "severe" impairments within the meaning of 20 C.F.R. 1520(c), he concluded that these impairments, were not of sufficient severity to meet or equal the level of the Secretary's "listed impairments," under 20 C.F.R. 1520(d), on which a finding of disability could summarily be made.
Second, the ALJ concluded that, although plaintiff may have been unable to perform her previous work as a store clerk, her medical condition between 1978 and 1982 did not prevent plaintiff from performing sedentary work. Therefore, under the Secretary's regulations, plaintiff was not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 1520(e), (f).
The evidence appears to support the ALJ's decision on the first issue, that plaintiff was not disabled prior to May 31, 1982. Plaintiff's diagnostic tests and examinations failed to document a disabling condition between 1978 and 1982. Despite a history of hypertension and occasional non-cardiac chest pains, all EKGs, chest x-rays, lung scans, brain scans, and examinations performed on plaintiff were essentially normal during the benefits eligibility period. Thus the record adequately supports the ALJ's conclusion that plaintiff's ailments -- hypertension without end-organ damage, angina, and shortness of breath -- singly or in combination, did not amount to the equivalent of a "listed impairment" under 20 C.F.R. § 1520(d).
Moreover, the ALJ expressly considered the combined effect of the impairments from which plaintiff suffered before reaching his conclusion. The addition of evidence of "moderate depression" (first raised before the Appeals Council) does not require a reconsideration of the ALJ's decision.
The Secretary's finding that plaintiff was capable of sedentary work is also supported in the record. Stress tests in 1978 and 1982 reveal that plaintiff could exercise at levels meeting or exceeding those required for sedentary work. In 1990, when plaintiff filed her initial claim for widow's disability benefits, she reported that she was able to care for her personal needs, cook, read, walk short distances, and attend church twice weekly. Thus, plaintiff's own admissions, as well as objective medical evidence, support the ALJ's finding that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work in the years following her retirement in 1978.
Given plaintiff's ability to perform sedentary work, and her age, education and work experience, the Secretary's vocational guidelines directed the ALJ to conclude that plaintiff was capable of "sustained gainful activity" and therefore not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 1569; Rules 201.27, 201.28, and 201.29.
While, in some cases, non-exertional impairments may require the ALJ to look beyond the vocational guidelines in determining eligibility for benefits, I find in this case that the ALJ's decision to remain within the guidelines is sufficiently supported. The record lacks objective medical evidence suggesting that plaintiff had significant non-exertional impairments.
After reviewing the medical records, plaintiff's testimony, and the findings of the ALJ and Appeals Council, I find that the Secretary's decision to deny plaintiff widow's disability benefits was supported by substantial evidence.
An appropriate order is issued herewith.
United States District Judge
Dated: October 13, 1995
For the reasons stated in the accompanying memorandum, it is this 13th day of October 1995, ORDERED
1. That plaintiff's motion for reversal of the Secretary's decision is denied.
2. That this case is dismissed.
United States District Judge